Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I always feel awful giving star ratings to people’s memoirs. I mean, how do you critique someone’s journal? This one is part of a pile of books I have, that I buy automatically because it is acclaimed and purports to illustrate something about the so-called “Black experience” that is both tragic and profound. I’ve also grown increasingly interested in the interiors of Black men and reading how they express their own experience, as distinct from those of Black women in a country that is both home, and hostile territory. Still, books like this I usually cannot read (or listen to) right away, because they take me to a dark place that it’s sometimes difficult to escape from. Well, ‘Heavy’ definitely took me to a dark place. It made me sad for Black boys, Black mothers, Black women, Black mothers of Black boys, Black men, and as always, the Black community as a whole. It made me also respect and celebrate our resilience, and the ability many of us have to make art, even under the most wretched and challenging of circumstances. It also made me think about how difficult it is to surface from the weight of our various traumas (even when we understand that we are traumatized) and take a single clear, clean breath.
Kiese Laymon’s memoir isn’t just good because it was well-written, it is good because it seemed so honest. He told us a lot that most people would have chosen to conceal. But there were also things implied that were not explicitly told, but not fully concealed. And there were things he told that were stunning because of how they unapologetically laid bare all of his flaws and faults and mistakes and wrongs. He doesn’t blame his mother (who is as complex and brilliant a person as I have read about in a long, long, time) for his choices, and he doesn’t blame racism or any of the other -isms that plague America. He just compellingly and sometimes almost dispassionately paints pictures that allow the reader to draw their own conclusions about the role that personal responsibility, social ills, or all the -isms might have played in his life.
I also loved that he didn’t end on the hackneyed high note that memoirs so often choose, the ‘and-here’s-what-I-learned-in-the-end’ closure that people seem to think they need. Instead, the reader gets the sense of his awareness that he will never be “done”, that he is, like all of us, a work-in-progress, with many, many more mistakes to be made. This one is a new classic for a reason. I highly recommend it.
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