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Memorial by Bryan Washington
Literary fiction

Memorial

Repeat author
Bryan Washington is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include Lot.

by Bryan Washington

Quick take

Both funny and heartbreaking, this intimate portrait of an imperfect relationship explores the highs and lows of love.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Romance

    Romance

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NoQuotationMarks

    No quotation marks

Why I love it

Katie Kitamura
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.

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Synopsis

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.

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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of Memorial.

Member thoughts

All (6879)
All (6879)
Love (1776)
Like (3635)
Dislike (1468)
7013 ratings
  • 25% Love
  • 52% Like
  • 21% Dislike
  • South Fulton, TN

    Mike, a Jap/Amer and Benson, a black man, live together. Mike’s mother comes to stay with Mike/Benson, but Mike leaves to take care of his ill father leaving her to spend time with just Benson. Fun.

  • Washington, NJ

    I don’t normally enjoy stories about people’s lives unless there’s a historical/fantasy/magical realism component, but this story was so well written I couldn’t help but read it in one sitting.

  • Brownsboro, AL

    This book is SO GOOD!! I could not put it down, it shook me up, offering no easy answers just empathy in large large doses. Also.... Houston ❤️ Washington beautifully captures this complicated city

  • Brooklyn, NY

    A nuanced, authentic portrait of modern relationships and cultural difference. Told through dual perspectives that are both critical and sympathetic of what it means to grieve, to endure, and to love.

  • Madison , WI

    This novel = absolutely STUNNING. Deserves every bit of good buzz. Sensitive, sweet, sad. Read a good portion w/ tears silently rolling down my face- hugged it to my chest when done. Highly recommend.

  • Midland City, AL

    I enjoyed the storyline through both Mike and Ben's perspectives. They are both genuine and relatable characters. I ended up both rooting for them as a couple and wishing for their individual success.

  • Seattle, WA

    The most complete and truthful portrayal of a relationship, in all its ugliness and beauty. Successfully captures exquisite melancholy, with the gentlest, most subtle touch of the author. A true gem!

  • Asheville, NC

    This isn't a "happily ever after" kind of love story but it's a real one and Washington has created two characters who are so nuanced and vibrant and broken that you forget they aren't your friends.

  • Omaha, NE

    This is one of my favorite books of 2020. I absolutely loved getting to know Mike and Benson. I was worried that the lack of quotation marks would bother me, but it didn’t at all! Beautiful book!

  • Seattle , WA

    Benson and Mike are flawed, but their story has so many moments of beauty and love. This book has a clear focus on family and what it means to be a parent and how messy both of those things can be.

  • Anchorage, AK

    Raw, real, and heartbreaking. In telling the love story of Mike and Benson, Washington taps into universal experiences of love and longing, children and parents, and the power of those connections.

  • Ponte Vedra Beach , FL

    The exploration of all the different relationships was exceptional. From start to finish I was hooked and completely immersed into the lives and situations each character had to struggle through.

  • Chula Vista, CA

    I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, but I really liked it. The story was interesting and the characters were both likable and relatable; much because they were imperfect as we all are.

  • Wailuku, HI

    I enjoyed Washington's understated writing and capturing his characters emotions through subtle behaviors that allow us to feel that tension. I think that can be difficult to capture. Well done!

  • Mount Rainier, MD

    More of a character study than a fully fleshed out story, this book offers glimpses into the everyday lives and relationships across cultures. The writing felt authentic and the style grew on me.

  • Racine , WI

    Really loved the main character. His struggle with shame and worth was compelling. His boyfriends relationship with his father and understanding what life can be was so well written. Great book.

  • Baltimore , MD

    Bryan hooked me with LOT. Memorial didnt disappoint. Mike and Ben are from different worlds but are equally fucked up by their parents and upbringings. Their relationship is complex&messy&honest.

  • Washington, DC

    A story of two honest self-reflections told through the exploration of new and old relationships. The unique narration, punctuation and oscillation between pov’s kept it fresh and interesting.

  • Harlan, KY

    This book captures the beauty & the mess, the funny & the sad of its characters' lives. It all felt so real, & the writing flowed (for me, anyway). Not everyone's cup of tea, but it is mine. <3

  • AUSTIN, TX

    Mike and Ben became so real to me that I’m still wondering (and worrying) about them days after finishing the book. Beautiful storytelling of universal hard times and difficult life moments.

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