Monday, September 21, 2020

Book Review | MEMORIAL by Bryan Washington

MEMORIAL by Bryan Washington
Publication: October 6, 2020
Publisher: Riverhead
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / LGBTQ
Rating: ★★★★

A funny and profound story about a family in all its strange forms, joyful and hard-won vulnerability, becoming who you're supposed to be, and the limits of love.

Benson and Mike are two young guys who live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson's a Black daycare teacher, and they've been together for a few years -- good years -- but now they're not sure why they're still a couple. There's the sex, sure, and the meals Mike cooks for Benson, and, well, they love each other.

But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates, an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted. Without Mike's immediate pull, Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life and have the goods to get it.

Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together or fracture everything they've ever known. And just maybe they'll all be okay in the end. - Publisher

Reading this reminds me of Hayao Miyazake’s films. Studio Ghibli prides itself by effectively utilizing quiet moments in their films to give certain scenes or scene sequences a louder voice. They do not necessarily overshadow smaller parts, since there is no such thing. Those notable moments of peace in a frame highlights the striking ones. And they don’t necessarily move the plot forward either. Yet, it allows the viewer a window to discern the characters and circumstances more deeply. And to read the same here, in MEMORIAL, is astonishing.

I have to admit I don’t get the point of not using quote or speech marks because I think the conversations here are brilliant and needs to be emphasized (especially those Ahmad moments). However, the premise intrigues me on the outset. Who leaves his mother with the boyfriend for an unforeseeable time while he traipses across the globe looking for his estranged father? Mike did. And I want to know how Benson coped.

This story is multi-layered. At the center of it is a mixed-race couple who are struggling to salvage their relationship. Between the sex, the fights, and the compromises, so much were left unspoken through the years. Are they really in love? Is their affection for each other enough to give up one’s home or family? Around them are their broken families, trying hard to be part of both their lives. The characters are flawed, yet I found myself invested in them. There is an ache here everyone felt before, one way or another. Washington pivots the attention while Benson and Mike were apart to search their present, appreciate their past, and observe those quiet moments in between. 

MEMORIAL is not a representation of an unconventional romance. Instead, it is a convincing exploration of typical love, family, and life struggles. 


About the Author:
Bryan Washington is a National Book Award 5 Under 35 honoree, and winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. His first book, the story collection Lot, was a finalist for the NBCC’s John Leonard Prize, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Lot was a New York Times Notable Book, one of Dwight Garner’s top ten books of the year, and on best-of-the-year lists from Time, NPR, Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, and many more. He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, BuzzFeed, Vulture, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s Quarterly, Tin House, One Story, Bon App├ętit, GQ, The Awl, and Catapult. He lives in Houston.

*Thanks to Riverhead Books for the uncorrected galley in exchange for this unbiased review.
*This post is a part of the monthly linkups organized by Lovely Audiobooks! You can click here to check it out and be a part of it.


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