Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've struggled with this book - reading it, reviewing it - for a host of reasons. There has been a lot of discussion in Instagram about white people reading black memoirs and adding to the audience of suffering. I haven't participated in the discussion but I have been following it to a small extent.
On Friday, I went to a Beloved Community breakfast honoring Martin Luther King Jr., with 200 or so people from my community gathering together. The speaker was Wade Davis, an activist who is openly gay but also works against toxic masculinity, etc. His advice had several points but ended with telling everyone they should read - read books by people who are not like you, read to understand them, to gain empathy, until they are you and you do not see them as the other.
So this is the perspective through which I read Laymon's memoir.
I was first introduced to this book at AWP in Tampa, when I attended a panel called "This is Scary and Here We Go: Fear in the Driver's Seat." Kiese was not on the list of authors to present but so many people were unable to get to the conference because of winter storms that there were missing presenters all over the place, and he was able to fill in for another writer on this one. He shared about this book, which he had recently finished, and how full of second guessing he was, by how much he'd shared, how honest he'd been, how he had to write it but wish he hadn't. I knew it would not be an easy read.
Laymon explores what it's like to move through the world in a black body, it's true, and that's often the first thing people say. But his body is also one that has not been protected in other ways. He has suffered what reads between the lines like inappropriate sexual contact with family members from a young age, because of his size and availability. The entire narrative is addressed to his mother, who is the "you," but it can make for an uncomfortable reading experience as it feels addressed to the reader. Members of his family struggle with different types of addiction and at first it just seems like drugs, but then more is revealed, and all seems tied to his weight - the weight of secrets, the weight of being physically heavy, the weight of carrying financial worry, the weight of unhealthful lightness, the weight of imposter syndrome in academia paired with insane accusations at every stage of achievement, whether it's an A paper or a tenure review.
Here it is, on the page. It feels like he wrote it because he had to. I don't know if I felt completely comfortable participating in that process, but maybe that's the side of heavy that can turn positive - if you move through life and go ahead and take up space, other people can deal with it however they want, and how they do is really none of your business. I think that is the way that I most resonate with his narrative.
I received an eARC from the publisher through Edelweiss, but the book has been out since October 16, 2018, and made a lot of books of the year lists. It took me a while longer to get through it, but I am glad I read it.
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