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Heavy: An American Memoir

Review

Heavy: An American Memoir

How do you carry the weight of being a black man in America? How do you carry the weight of your own mistakes and their consequences, and how do you balance that with the weight of ongoing oppression and disenfranchisement that you can never put down? How do you carry the burdens of truth, saturated as they are with desire, want and complexity? How do you carry the weight of your own body, searching for your self in its shade, shape and shiftings?

There are no easy answers, but Kiese Laymon interrogates these questions and more in his excruciatingly expert memoir.

"HEAVY is a powerful, intricate work. I am so grateful that Kiese Laymon created it and chose to share it with us. I cannot recommend it enough."

HEAVY traces the typical trajectory of a memoir, but reverberates off the page with Laymon's sharp, unique telling. It begins with Laymon's childhood as an overweight black boy growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, and follows him as he proceeds to college, his suspension from college, and the emergence of his successful career. Throughout, he explores his fluctuating relationship with body, intimacy, creativity and belonging. His mother, a brilliant but complex figure in his life, cuts a throughline of the book, his relationship with her an undercurrent of everything he encounters.

It feels almost a disservice for me to review HEAVY. It feels minimizing to call it exquisite or prescient, wise or beautiful, because, though it is all these things, ultimately it is so vulnerable and honest --- it encapsulates all this and more, and does it best in Laymon's own words. Roxane Gay's cover blurb culminates with "Wow. Just wow," and that really sums it up. HEAVY is a reckoning. It's introspective and vital, balancing with a crucial, critical, searing voice with so much tenderness and intimacy.

Laymon writes with such self-awareness, such compassion and selflessness --- he is committed to truth-telling throughout, whether it's about the messy horrors of oppression or his own failures and backslides on his path towards that very truth. His writing is clear and compelling, rich in how it ensnares meaning, getting to the heart of his concerns. He comes from a place of such consciousness about his own privilege and his own journey that it's at times as humbling to read as it is engrossing.

HEAVY is a powerful, intricate work. I am so grateful that Kiese Laymon created it and chose to share it with us. I cannot recommend it enough.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on October 26, 2018

Heavy: An American Memoir
by Kiese Laymon

  • Publication Date: October 16, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1501125656
  • ISBN-13: 9781501125652