This is a well-written short memoir about the author’s family, body, and experiences as a black boy and man in America. Kiese Laymon is an English professor from Mississippi, and this memoir starts when he was 11 and continues through his 40s, though of course covering so many years in 241 pages means we skip over a lot. The memoir is addressed to his mother, who is one of those mothers people are especially driven to write memoirs about: brilliant, loving, and abusive. He also writes a lot about his body issues, going from obesity to what looks like anorexia and an exercise obsession, and then back.
So there’s a lot packed into this book, and it’s highly readable although often “heavy” material. The sections about how Laymon saw black college students being harshly disciplined for minor infractions while white students got off with a slap on the wrist for much more serious crimes (or in one case, even pawned off their own culpability on unknown but totally scary people of color) was particularly hard-hitting to me. There’s a lot in the book that’s very raw, though told in an artful way by an author skilled at rhetoric. Much of it won’t be surprising to anyone who’s read much about race in America, but the author’s perspective makes a lot of sense.
It isn’t my favorite book of the year, perhaps because it isn’t written “for” me—Laymon writes about wanting to write for black people, which makes sense. Sometimes I found it a little confusing. At times in small ways: like many memoirists, Laymon leans heavily on brand names, which can be confusing if you don’t share the author’s pop-cultural background. And also in larger ways: the author seems to imply that his mother sexually abused him, but never explicitly says so even while he writes a lot about the need for radical honesty within his family, which tends to bury everything. In the end I wasn’t sure whether he was being cagey or I was reading in something that wasn’t there.
At any rate, this is a good book and well worth reading for anyone looking to read about race in America, or just looking for a good memoir.