HEAVY by Kiese Laymon
Kirkus Star


An American Memoir
Email this review


A challenging memoir about black-white relations, income inequality, mother-son dynamics, Mississippi byways, lack of personal self-control, education from kindergarten through graduate school, and so much more.

Laymon (English and Creative Writing/Univ. of Mississippi; How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, 2013, etc.) skillfully couches his provocative subject matter in language that is pyrotechnic and unmistakably his own. He also uses an intriguing narrative form, directly addressing his divorced mother, a poverty-stricken single woman who became a political science professor at Jackson State University. As an obese black youngster, the author had to learn to absorb cruelty not only because of his size, but also because of his dark skin. The relentlessness of his mother’s love—she expected academic and behavioral perfection and employed corporal punishment with a belt—shaped Laymon’s character in ways both obvious and subtle. One of the main elements of the memoir is his resentment at white privilege and his techniques to counter it. “Every time you said my particular brand of hardheadedness and white Mississippian’s brutal desire for black suffering were recipes for an early death, institutionalization, or incarceration, I knew you were right,” writes the author. Of all the secondary themes, the impact of addiction—food, gambling, and drug use, but especially food—ranks next. Laymon hated himself for topping 300 pounds as a teenager. Then he got fanatical with exercise and near starvation, dropping down to 170—followed by a relapse of sorts as he began to approach 300 again. Far more than just the physical aspect, the weight he carries also derives from the burdens placed on him by a racist society, by his mother and his loving grandmother, and even by himself. At times, the author examines his complicated romantic and sexual relationships, and he also delves insightfully into politics, literature, feminism, and injustice, among other topics.

A dynamic memoir that is unsettling in all the best ways.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5011-2565-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2018


NonfictionTHE RECOVERING by Leslie Jamison
by Leslie Jamison
NonfictionCALL ME AMERICAN by Abdi Nor Iftin
by Abdi Nor Iftin
NonfictionCALYPSO by David Sedaris
by David Sedaris
NonfictionREPORTER by Seymour Hersh
by Seymour Hersh


NonfictionWE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER by Ta-Nehisi Coates
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
NonfictionWHITE TRASH by Nancy Isenberg
by Nancy Isenberg
NonfictionSURVIVAL MATH by Mitchell S. Jackson
by Mitchell S. Jackson