Review of HEAVY by JJ Anselmi
Ok, picture a map of the United States. Most people even when looking at the full map only see certain areas. East Coast and West Coast. Texas. Florida. Those are givens. Some see that ribbon of cities Detroit, Milwaukee, Memphis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, etc.
What’s missing? That entire swath of land from west of the Mississippi River to California.
That includes Wyoming.
I’ve been guilty of that myself.
Something I’ve wondered what is life like in those small nameless towns in the middle of nowhere? How do people life? Do they make it out? Do they eat their young?
JJ Anselmi is my age, I think 3 years younger and grew up in Rock Springs, Wyoming. I had to look at a map for context. Rock Springs has been rather fucked up by the mining industry. Anselmi’s grandfather, who helped build Rock Springs, was featured in a 1977 episode of 60 Minutes for possible connections to organized crime. And Rock Springs has one of the highest suicide rates in the United States.
Now, as I read this book, it was like looking at the negative of a photograph of my own life. I found myself asking myself, “Do I know this guy?” It felt like even though Rock Springs and Boston are as different as men and women, our lives followed interwoven paths. Anselmi’s high school experience was almost a carbon copy of my own. Listening to metal, trying to look a certain way, and generally saying, “Fuck you” to conformity at every chance possible. Halfway through the book I found myself saying, “I think I know this guy,” and by the end I was saying, “I fucking know this guy.”
This book became a personal ride for me. It forced me to take some deep, introspective looks at parts of my life that I thought were buried deep. I found that small towns and big cities aren’t all that different. They both eat their young at every chance they get.
The book opens with Anselmi getting tattoos removed via scarification and that requires fucking guts. When I got to the end of the book and read his reasons for doing just that I thought, “Motherfucker, I’m right there with you except I’m blacking out an entire sleeve.” Redaction of the past is possible.
Survivors have the best stories and Anselmi is a survivor.
What’s that AA bullshit about a deep moral inventory? Anselmi is truly fearless for writing a memoir with this level of honesty. It’s bleak and it’s lonely and it’s a book I’ll never forget. It’s rare that I read something that has such a profound effect on me.
Thank you for writing this, JJ. Sometimes you find the right books at the right time.