Heavy
In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.Kiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free. A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood—and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations.

Heavy Details

TitleHeavy
Author
ReleaseOct 16th, 2018
PublisherScribner
ISBN-139781501125652
Rating
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing, Essays, Biography, Cultural, African American, Race, Biography Memoir, Social Issues, Short Stories

Heavy Review

  • Roxane
    January 1, 1970
    How do you carry the weight of being a black man in America? In electrifying, deliberate prose, Kiese Laymon tries to answer that question from the first page of Heavy: An American Memoir to the last. He writes about what it means to live in a heavy body, in all senses of that word. He writes of family, love, place, trauma, race, desire, grief, rage, addiction, and human weakness, and he does so relentlessly, without apology. To call the way Laymon lays himself bare an act of courageous grace is How do you carry the weight of being a black man in America? In electrifying, deliberate prose, Kiese Laymon tries to answer that question from the first page of Heavy: An American Memoir to the last. He writes about what it means to live in a heavy body, in all senses of that word. He writes of family, love, place, trauma, race, desire, grief, rage, addiction, and human weakness, and he does so relentlessly, without apology. To call the way Laymon lays himself bare an act of courageous grace is beside the point but what and how he writes in this exceptional book are, indeed, acts of courageous grace.
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    At the very beginning of HEAVY, Laymon writes, "I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie." The "you" is Laymon's mother, and the book is, above all else, about the two of them, written with such openly bared love and fear that it feels like intruding on them to read it. Even the people you know best don't reveal themselves to you this way, and that is, perhaps, some of what Laymon is trying to correct for at least one reader. The heaviness of the title is made manifest throughout At the very beginning of HEAVY, Laymon writes, "I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie." The "you" is Laymon's mother, and the book is, above all else, about the two of them, written with such openly bared love and fear that it feels like intruding on them to read it. Even the people you know best don't reveal themselves to you this way, and that is, perhaps, some of what Laymon is trying to correct for at least one reader. The heaviness of the title is made manifest throughout the book. It is the weight of trauma kept secret, the weight of generations of black oppression, the weight of truths unspoken, the weight of shame, the weight of expectations, and the actual weight of an actual body. I could feel as I read it, the memory of the original lie Laymon wrote which he could not let stand, and then started over to write this book. The contrast of the truth, the way he forces himself to lay out the facts, but also shows the power of the lie and the lies he tells himself in the choices he makes. All of this makes it one of those memoirs that feels singular, that carves out a new way to show yourself to the world. (For me, it is up there with recent works like HUNGER, NEGROLAND, and THE FACT OF A BODY in that respect.)Structurally, it is a traditional memoir. It moves forward in linear time, it focuses on certain formative periods, it charts the development of the person the author is now. It is also, it seems, his own attempt to call himself to action while acknowledging all along the way that one thing he has learned so far is that these calls rarely go the way you want them to. Life does not usually give us these simple structures of obstacle followed by growth, so often it is obstacle followed by failure which leads to more failure and an ever-growing spiral of shame. Laymon has the gift of knowledge, of insight, of words, of education, but sometimes all that gives him is the ability to know just how far he has gone wrong.Laymon grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, raised by a single mother who is also a professor. She surrounds him with books, she assigns him essays, she is in many ways that stereotypical black parent who demands their black child work twice as hard. She also hits him, lies to him, steals from him, and falls into patterns of abuse and addiction that have been passed down to her and that she will in turn pass down to Laymon. As the book tells their story, it also reckons with the heritage of being black in the deep South, what it means to be there, and what it means to leave. It is not that the way Laymon writes about her is unflinching, it is that he lets you see him flinch, see how much he loves her and how much it hurts him to be hurt by her and now to hurt her in return by laying it all bare. I have been a fan of Laymon's for years, his novel LONG DIVISION is one of my favorites, and I have never read one of his essays that wasn't sublime. HEAVY is an even bigger achievement: masterfully written, moving effortlessly from personal confession to societal critique, seeing the intricacies of the author as well as his place in a bigger world. I was tempted to underline something on almost every page. The only reason I wasn't constantly sharing pictures of it on Instagram Stories was because I never wanted to share just one sentence, I wanted to share whole paragraphs and pages. I actually feel a little bit of guilt writing a good review because Laymon is so unabashedly honest about himself, about addictions and abuse and eating disorders, about his family and his relationships, that it feels like a betrayal to share it publicly. It is truly a gift to write this way and I hope we do not squander it.
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  • Andre
    January 1, 1970
    Such an aptly titled memoir because it is indeed heavy, not only speaking about his struggles with weight, but also heavy in the literary and impact sense. It is both heady and the words land with real impact on the reader. Kiese Laymon has given us a brutally honest look into his life and asks us, the readers to bear the weight of his experiences, and that is a challenging request but one well worth the payoff. And that recompense comes in the form of a piercingly written memoir that soars to h Such an aptly titled memoir because it is indeed heavy, not only speaking about his struggles with weight, but also heavy in the literary and impact sense. It is both heady and the words land with real impact on the reader. Kiese Laymon has given us a brutally honest look into his life and asks us, the readers to bear the weight of his experiences, and that is a challenging request but one well worth the payoff. And that recompense comes in the form of a piercingly written memoir that soars to heights not generally seen in memoir writing. Laymon seems to have fastidiously labored over every sentence and that meticulousness makes for an absolutely wonderful read. Right from the start Laymon states, speaking to his mother “I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie. 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, or black children. I did not want to write about us. I wanted to write a lie.” But, he did not write the lie. He bravely wrote the truth in all its ugliness. That opening was bracing, preparing, indeed apologizing to his mother for what would eventually appear on these pages.The prose is exquisite and although the subject matter is mostly heavy, at times the handling is light but the constant is the honesty. A virtuous baring of the soul, he frequently takes the reader right to the edge but doesn't shove us into the abyss, always leaving room for the necessary deep breaths to take in all that we are digesting from the page. And Laymon delivers, sentence after sentence. You clearly know you are in the hands of a writer that has spent serious time perfecting the mechanics of writing. It is easy to marvel at the construction of paragraphs and it all adds up to what is an extraordinary work.I have intentionally avoided writing about the content of the book, it's his life in book form, just know that you are in for a fascinating ride with highs, lows, laughs, sighs and maybe tears. “We will not ever have to be this way. I wanted to write a lie. You wanted to read a lie. I wrote this to you instead because I am your child, and you are mine. You are also my mother and I am your son. Please do not be mad at me, Mama. I was just trying to put you where I’ve been. I am just trying to put you where I bend.” Thank you Kiese Laymon for sharing, there is no doubt that your act of fearlessness will help countless others as they grapple with their own struggles. A big thank you to Scribner Books and Edelweiss for an advanced DRC. Book drops October 16, 2018.
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  • Kasa Cotugno
    January 1, 1970
    What ever choices or challenges you may be forced to make in life, they are NOTHING compared to what it means to exist as a black man in today's America. The implementation of bodycams spawning outrage while watching the evening news, the helplessness at the tragedy felt at a watching, nightly, as lives are changed forever by impetuousness and unwarranted fear. This is Kiese's own story as he narrates to his mother. His writing is raw, but his accomplishments many, and he along with Roxanne Gay What ever choices or challenges you may be forced to make in life, they are NOTHING compared to what it means to exist as a black man in today's America. The implementation of bodycams spawning outrage while watching the evening news, the helplessness at the tragedy felt at a watching, nightly, as lives are changed forever by impetuousness and unwarranted fear. This is Kiese's own story as he narrates to his mother. His writing is raw, but his accomplishments many, and he along with Roxanne Gay constitute the voice of America.
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  • Steve Haruch
    January 1, 1970
    A memoir that reads like a novel, Heavy grapples with racism, abuse, addiction, rape culture, body image and shame — with a kind of radical honesty and radical tenderness that is urgent and necessary. Beautiful and terrifying, and one of the most powerful books I've read in a long time.
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  • Monet
    January 1, 1970
    I’m reminded of Roxane Gay’s Hunger in the way Laymon unclothes his body and reveals it to us. I can’t think of another book that existed like Hunger and now I can’t think of another book that exists like Heavy. You’ll want to say you read both of these books in their first moments of existing.
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  • Cady
    January 1, 1970
    I couldn't look away or put Laymon's devastating memoir down. Laymon's writing is tender, raw, and fierce, ripping through your heart as he explores what it really means to love honestly as a black man who's inherited a legacy of horrific racial violence in the American South.
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  • Kromeklia Bryant
    January 1, 1970
    This book had an uncomfortable truth to it. I couldn't put it down. Couldn't not think about my own upbringing. Powerful!
  • Lacy Johnson
    January 1, 1970
    In HEAVY, Kiese Laymon asks how to survive in a body despite the many violences that are inflicted upon it: the violence of racism, of misogyny, of history — the violence of a culture that treats the bodies of black men with fear and suspicion more often than with tenderness and attentive care. In prose that sears at the same time as it soars, Kiese Laymon breaks the unbearable silence each of these violences, in their peculiar cruelty, has imposed. Permeated with humility, bravery, and a bold i In HEAVY, Kiese Laymon asks how to survive in a body despite the many violences that are inflicted upon it: the violence of racism, of misogyny, of history — the violence of a culture that treats the bodies of black men with fear and suspicion more often than with tenderness and attentive care. In prose that sears at the same time as it soars, Kiese Laymon breaks the unbearable silence each of these violences, in their peculiar cruelty, has imposed. Permeated with humility, bravery, and a bold intersectional feminism, HEAVY is a triumph. I stand in solidarity with this book, and with its writer.
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  • Rachel SV (nerdlyy)
    January 1, 1970
    I received a free ARC of this book for my honest review.There is a lot to say about Kiese Laymon's brilliant new memoir. I read this while simultaneously listening to Roxane Gay's Hunger, and I don't know that I could have picked a book more closely matched in terms of tone and subject matter if I had planned it. In Heavy, Laymon explores how his complicated relationship to both food and his body is the consequence of grappling with black masculinity, early experiences of sexual abuse and violen I received a free ARC of this book for my honest review.There is a lot to say about Kiese Laymon's brilliant new memoir. I read this while simultaneously listening to Roxane Gay's Hunger, and I don't know that I could have picked a book more closely matched in terms of tone and subject matter if I had planned it. In Heavy, Laymon explores how his complicated relationship to both food and his body is the consequence of grappling with black masculinity, early experiences of sexual abuse and violence, and a dysfunctional bond with his mother. Laymon expertly recreates the emotional confusion of trauma and of growing up, and never shies away from or makes excuses for his own mistakes. His desire to both understand and accept his and his family's history was palpable and heart-wrenching. The writing is excellent, but it's an emotionally difficult memoir to read because of the subject matter. Heavy is an apt title - go into this prepared for some feelings.
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  • Rach
    January 1, 1970
    "We will share. We will remember, imagine, and help build what we cannot find. Or, it is likely we will not remember.We will not imagine.We will not share.We will not swing back.We will not organize.We will not be honest.We will not be tender.We will not be generous.We will do what Americans do.We will abuse like Americans abuse.We will forget like Americans forget. We will hunt like Americans hunt.We will hide like Americans hide.We will lie like Americans lie.We will die like Americans die.We "We will share. We will remember, imagine, and help build what we cannot find. Or, it is likely we will not remember.We will not imagine.We will not share.We will not swing back.We will not organize.We will not be honest.We will not be tender.We will not be generous.We will do what Americans do.We will abuse like Americans abuse.We will forget like Americans forget. We will hunt like Americans hunt.We will hide like Americans hide.We will lie like Americans lie.We will die like Americans die.We did not ever have to be this way.We do not ever have to be this way.We will not ever have to be this way."
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  • Eleanor
    January 1, 1970
    This is the first of two memoirs by black men that I've read in the past few weeks. Laymon's context is American. He is the child of a single mother from Mississippi, a brilliant woman whose tenacity and academic achievements were matched only by her high expectations for her son and her punishing disappointment (often physically; in the memoir, she strikes young Kiese a lot) when he doesn't match up. The book is roughly chronological, tracing Laymon's struggles with weight, addiction, desire, a This is the first of two memoirs by black men that I've read in the past few weeks. Laymon's context is American. He is the child of a single mother from Mississippi, a brilliant woman whose tenacity and academic achievements were matched only by her high expectations for her son and her punishing disappointment (often physically; in the memoir, she strikes young Kiese a lot) when he doesn't match up. The book is roughly chronological, tracing Laymon's struggles with weight, addiction, desire, and how best to be a man, from childhood on up to his professorship at Vassar. He is clear and uncompromising about the role that abuse plays in shaping young black men and women: physical abuse, such as his mother hitting him, and sexual abuse, the first scene of which occurs when he is a child in a neighbour's house where a slightly older girl, Layla, is made to go into a bedroom with three "big boys". Laymon is queasily but precisely aware of power and coercion even as a very  young child, and his strength in this memoir is in showing us how hard it is to win when the body - as they say - really does keep the score. Things fall apart a little near the end; the book as a whole is addressed to his mother, and as he begins to wrap up, the text begins to feel like a monologue, with some of the problems of  repetition and obscurity that that suggests. It is, however, an outrageously good and visceral piece of writing, and in its detail, it clarifies so much about black lives in America. (Particularly illuminating is the fact that each of Laymon's paychecks gets parceled out to more than half a dozen relatives in need, so that despite a regular salary, he often finds himself living hand to mouth.) White people should read this; non-Americans should read it too. Laymon is a clear successor to Roxane Gay.
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  • Rachel Smalter Hall
    January 1, 1970
    If you like memoirs where the author rips their heart out of their chest and leaves it beating on the floor, great, because we have so much to talk about. Kiese Laymon's new memoir has left me totally speechless, but I'm going to try really hard to make words now so I can tell you how deeply I loved it.Heavy is about a lot of things, including what happens to the body after trauma. From the time he was just a kid in Mississippi, Kiese Laymon has known exactly how much he weighs at any given mome If you like memoirs where the author rips their heart out of their chest and leaves it beating on the floor, great, because we have so much to talk about. Kiese Laymon's new memoir has left me totally speechless, but I'm going to try really hard to make words now so I can tell you how deeply I loved it.Heavy is about a lot of things, including what happens to the body after trauma. From the time he was just a kid in Mississippi, Kiese Laymon has known exactly how much he weighs at any given moment, yo-yoing between 160 and 320 pounds. When he was depressed in college, he would eat slices of old pizza from the dorm trash at night. Later, as a graduate instructor, he would run 11 miles every day, eat only 800 calories, and pass out in public. Now, looking back, he unpacks all those years of collected trauma with an uncanny knack for saying the things that everyone thinks but no one ever says. CONSTANT. SHIVERS.I can't wait for ten years from now when we'll all look back and remember when we became obsessed with Kiese Laymon.
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  • Diane Payne
    January 1, 1970
    Kiese Layton can write the hell out of a day. I loved listening to his grandma when she was imparting her words of wisdom on Kiese. I admire the honest of this memoir and how he sent the book to his mother before it was published. I read her letter to Kiese on his website and found that interesting also. He speaks to so many readers who wake up at night afraid they're becoming that parent. Damn, this is the perfect memoir.
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  • Csimplot
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent book!
  • Frank Karioris
    January 1, 1970
    Review forthcoming.
  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    Kiese Laymon is a powerful force to be reckoned with on the page. This book will be literary canon. Highly recommended.
  • Kirby
    January 1, 1970
    Gut wrenching. Intense. Overwhelming. Kiese Laymon is a brilliant writer and this memoir will fill you with shock, horror, despair, and hope.
  • Gina
    January 1, 1970
    A stunning, lyrical, heartbreaking love letter.
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