Both funny and heartbreaking, this intimate portrait of an imperfect relationship explores the highs and lows of love.
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Why I love it
Author, Intimacies (forthcoming)
There’s a lot in Bryan Washington’s Memorial that’s close to my heart. It’s about families and food, about cultural division and communion. In this tender and wise novel, Washington keeps one foot in the Houston of his acclaimed debut collection, Lot, while also traveling to Osaka. Washington is one of the great chroniclers of the city, and here he brings both Houston and Osaka to true and vivid life.
The book alternates between two characters: Benson, a Black day care teacher, and Mike, a Japanese American chef. They’re a young couple living in Houston in what might be the final days of their relationship—neither of them is entirely sure. Matters come to a head when Mike abruptly flies to Japan after learning that his estranged father is dying in Osaka. His departure leaves Benson to contend with the arrival of Mike’s exquisitely caustic mother, Mitsuko. The two become unlikely housemates, and then allies of a kind.
Memorial is about distance and separation, but it’s also about love in various forms—love that is compromised, love that endures. Washington is a patient archeologist of the human heart, and a writer of uncommon depth. Memorial took my breath away.
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 day care 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.