“I wanted to write a lie”….these are some of the first few words of the critically acclaimed memoir, Heavy by Kiese Laymond. Laymon continues, “I wanted to write an American Memoir”. These two quotes, though succinct, outline his reality that finding love, for himself and others, as an African American male, was different than the universal American love story in which is inherently believed.
What is now being played out in current events via protests around the world against police brutality, Laymond skillfully writes as a personalized perceptive account that can be easily relayed to diverse audiences. Simplistic, effective, emotional, and neutral -this American Memoir is as American as the celebrated Educated by Tara Westover. Exhibiting brave pursuance of the liberty in telling ones own unique story is as American as it gets.
✨Laymond, an English professor at University of Mississippi, accounts his personal journey as an African American male in learning how to responsibly love while navigating barriers in which most are unaware; Named a Best Book of 2018 by the New York Times, it’s written in the form of a letter to his mother, using their relationship as a baseline to which he approaches all others -inherently transferring not only the jubilant emotional currency but also the traumatic.
“ I did not want to write to you. I did not want to write honestly about black lies, black thighs, black loves, black laughs, black foods, black addictions, black stretch marks, black dollars, black words, black abuses, black blues, black belly buttons, black wins, black beens, black bends, black consent, black parents, or black children. I did not want to write about us.” ~Kiese Laymond
In this work, Laymond’s writing style is basic and untraditional, conversational even. A fitting style for the structural literary theme. The title can be subjective, that is, based on the experience that shape the readers’ lenses. It can reference the eating disorder Laymond possessed, the weight of keeping these stories a secret from his mother for so long, the hypothetical weight of being a “black body” in America, the weight of processes his story as an observer and so on. Herein lies the beauty of this work.
The grace is which Laymond is able to relay the needs of his younger self with words untraditionally used to reference a “large male black body” is admirable: soft words, tender words, vulnerable words. This cross draws an emotional response from the reader to more closely experience Laymond’s discourse in feeling these emotions while navigating a world rejecting the notion that he should in fact feel them. Expectations applied both by those inside and external to his community.
Astutely, the central storyline revolves around the human body. A reference to his human body, it’s conscious and subconscious experiences as he comes of age: social phycological trauma, physical beatings, sexual experiences -those welcomed and unwelcome, the complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, romantic interests and more.
Some of the more heartbreaking passages describe he and his friends trying to make sense of being labeled “gross” from a White teacher. These passages account them trying to decipher why that word and if it was something they had done to cause this choice of language. Happier passages outline the support and uplift of he and his friends for one another as they navigated trials together, as well as the warming hope of his mother and grandmother in him becoming the next great writer of his time.
I. Boy Man
II. Black Abundance
III. Home Worked
IV. Addict Americans
c. Seat Belts
There is so much to intellectually unpack in this novel which may add to the list of reasons it is already used as supplementary text in some collegiate classrooms. Its ambivalence, in a sense, allows each reader to write and evaluate their own coming of age stories in parallel and subsequently relate it to the social climate of today. The New York Times writes, “…this generous, searching book explores all the forces that can stop even the most buoyant hopes from ever leaving the ground.”
A drawback to this artwork is that the reader is left wanting more. It is obvious that some parts of the story are intentionally left out. As the reader you can’t help but feel like Laymond wants to tell you something but can’t. Towards the end of the novel, Laymond eludes that his mother may have asked for some parts to be removed from the original transcript before publication.
This book is an intimate conversation. One that everyone should have. One that “confront[s] the terrifying possibility that few of us know how to responsibly love”.
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