Why would a reader be interested in a Southern black man talking through his problems with his Mom? “Heavy: An American Memoir” by Kiese Laymon takes the reader on a journey as he unravels to her important experiences growing up that was lied about, denied, and/or omitted. Between those experiences what is revealed is a mother and child’s intimate and dilapidated love for each other.
In fact, the “Black Abundance” of dilapidated love comes through others who impact his life as well such as his Grandma, and his mother’s abusive boyfriends. Each are fleshed out three-dimensional characters the reader witnesses during good and bad times. His mother held him to academic excellence while modeling detrimental behaviors such excessive gambling.
My favorite aspect of “Heavy: An American Memoir” was Laymon’s use of language. Through his black Southern Mississippi cadence, he wrote, “We laughed, laughed, and laugh until we don’t” that captured many ha-ha moments. Then how he weaved his phrase “Black Abundance” throughout the memoir ‘til it became a phrase that captured his friendship while bringing the reader along.
Laymon was able to show the weight of intergenerational problems such as his family’s lack of money. His Grandma washed white peoples’ clothes to have a little extra, his mother struggled to raise him with academic checks, and his own as an adjunct. Although his experience being an adjunct remained least interesting to me. It was intriguing to discover how he navigated higher education’s purgatory.
Still, Layman’s depiction of his weight struggles, being black in the deep south, and in that frame, was a journey worth reading. No one’s journey is total uphill. It’s falling, falling, getting up, falling and then maybe making progress. He nailed what failure and success can look like through his weight battles and becoming a writer. I can see myself teaching (or reading) “Heavy: An American Memoir” again. And I encourage anyone who likes memoirs, a good heart aching story to check it out.
Rashaun J. Allen is the first Fulbright scholar in SUNY Stony Brook’s MFA in Creative Writing & Literature program history. A Vermont Studio Center and Arts, Letters, and Numbers residency recipient whose three independently published poetry collections: A Walk Through Brooklyn, In The Moment, and The Blues Cry For A Revolution became Amazon Kindle Best Sellers in African American Poetry. He has been a 2019 Tupelo Press 30/30 Project Poet, nominated for Sundress Publication’s 2018 Best of the Net Anthology in Creative Non-Fiction and was a 2017 Steinberg Essay Contest Finalist in Fourth Genre. His writing has appeared in TSR: The Southampton Review, Tishman Review, Rigorous, Auburn Avenue, Poui, and River Styx.