As he states right at the beginning of his memoir, Kiese Laymon could have written a lie. He could have sugarcoated and hidden, forgotten, and omitted. But he didn’t, and I’m so glad he told the real raw truth in Heavy. A word of warning: Heavy is going to rip your heart out more than once, and cause you to start looking at your own life in a different way. We could all tell lies, we all do tell lies… What will happen if we take a page out of Kiese Laymon’s stunning book and start telling our own truths? I hope people realize how much courage and heart it took to write this memoir, and that people take their time to unpeel the layers that are present within the words. I’m still reeling and probably will be for a while.
Heavy reads like a novel in letter form, a letter to “you”, Kiese Laymon’s mother. It follows Laymon’s life growing up poor and black to a single mother in Jackson, Mississippi, through college and right through his years teaching at Vassar. Heavy is Laymon’s life, but it is also the story of his brilliant and conflicted mother, his amazing grandmother whose drops of wisdom are always perfectly timed, of physical and sexual abuse, and of being determined despite all of the obstacles that were put in his path way before he was even conceived. Heavy is struggle: struggle with weight, struggle with control, with gambling, with finding oneself, the struggles of living in a world created only to benefit white people. I will never understand what it is to grow up as a black man in the US, but Laymon’s memoir provides excellent insight into the unique struggles faced by black men in this country. As I said earlier, Heavy is layers, and you need to appreciate them all to understand the piece of literary excellence that it is. A memoir but also a profound insight into this country and the lies this country tells itself to keep on keeping on. We are all pretty much complicit in these lies, our legacy will rest on what we actually did to make a difference. Laymon has been making his differences for years, are we making ours?
On a personal level, I have always hesitated to write full truths in case I upset people. I know exactly how much courage it took to write Heavy, and how it also must have hurt Laymon’s mother the first time she read it. You can find an absolutely beautiful letter from her on his blog which in my opinion sets the importance of writing the truth no matter what in stone. We all make mistakes, it’s up to us to use them as growth rather than hide behind them. Kiese Laymon has become a huge inspiration to me, and I’m pretty sure Heavy is going to continue to inspire and impact me for years to come.
This review doesn’t do Heavy enough justice. All I can say is that you need to read it. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy. Thanks to Kiese Laymon for putting so much of yourself into your beautiful writing.