In ‘Heavy,’ Kiese Laymon Recalls the Weight of Where He’s Been

Jennifer Szalai in the New York Times:

Kiese Laymon started his new memoir, “Heavy,” with every intention of writing what his mother would have wanted — something profoundly uplifting and profoundly dishonest, something that did “that old black work of pandering” to American myths and white people’s expectations. His mother, a professor of political science, taught him that you need to lie as a matter of course and, ultimately, to survive; honesty could get a black boy growing up in Jackson, Miss., not just hurt but killed. He wanted to do what she wanted. But then he didn’t.

“Heavy” is a gorgeous, gutting book that’s fueled by candor yet freighted with ambivalence. It’s full of devotion and betrayal, euphoria and anguish, tender embraces and rough abuse. Laymon addresses himself to his mother, a “you” who appears in these pages as a brilliant, overwhelmed woman starting her academic career while raising a son on her own. She gave her only child daily writing assignments — less, it seems, to encourage his sense of discovery and curiosity than to inculcate him with the “excellence, education and accountability” that were the “requirements” for keeping him safe.

More here.