Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I know, I know, I know: you’re not supposed to compare books, especially memoirs considering the fact that you’re literally comparing people’s lives. However, almost immediately Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon reminded me of Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.
Aside from the graphic beatings Laymon suffered at the hands of his mother, he’s also detailed in the ways in which he’s aware of his weight gain, weight loss, and weight gain again. He remembers what he weighed at certain points in his life and how it affected how he moved about in the world. I love how when he was in high school, he had a supportive friend—a male friend at that–who assures him he’s not gross because of his weight.
I usually don’t like second-person narration, but the memoir also doubles as a letter to his mother, almost a love letter even. Even though she was abusive, he loved and loves her still and wishes to tell her all he experienced and went through growing up as a young Black man in America. Southern America. “I looked like a big, dark, black man since I was an eleven-year-old boy.” As a teen and a passenger in his mother’s car, a police officer pulled her over but asked for his ID, assuming he was an adult. Thank goodness his mother had the wherewithal to know her rights and to inform the cops that the passenger was not only her son, but a minor.
Laymon shares other heartbreaking experiences, like two romantic relationships, one with a white girl and another with a Black girl. Both are toxic relationships, but as is often the case with unhealthy relationships, he’s tricked into believing he feels whole. On some level he also feels wanted and chosen.
As the memoir progressed, I kept hoping he’d eventually find happy and healthy love like Damon Young in his memoir essay collection, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. I guess that part is left out or is unwritten because it has yet to happen, but at least the boy who had to transfer schools because his was shut down was able to go to college and also become a professor like his mother. And despite the stigma of therapy, especially in the Black community, he seeks it out so that all heaviness in his past can be alleviated.
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