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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

Excellent choice

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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_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NoQuotationMarks

    No quotation marks

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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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Memorial.
Memorial

Benson

1.

Mike’s taking off for Osaka, but his mother’s flying into Houston.

Just for a few weeks, he says.

Or maybe a couple of months, he says. But I need to go.

The first thing I think is: fuck.

The second’s that we don’t have the money for this.

Then it occurs to me that we don’t have any savings at all. But Mike’s always been good about finances, always cool about separating his checks. It’s something I’d always taken for granted about him.

 

Now he’s saying that he wants to find his father. The man’s gotten sick. Mike wants to catch him before he goes. And I’m on the sofa, half listening, half charging my phone.

You haven’t seen your mom in years, I say. She’s coming for you. I’ve never met her.

I say, You don’t even fucking like your dad.

True, says Mike. But I already bought the ticket.

And Ma will be here when I’m back, says Mike. You’re great company. She’ll live.

He’s cracking eggs by the stove, slipping yolks into a pair of pans. After they’ve settled, he salts them, drizzling mayonnaise with a few sprigs of oregano. Mike used to have this thing about sriracha, he’d pull a hernia whenever I reached for it, but now he squeezes a faded bottle over my omelette, rubbing it in with the spatula.

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Why I love it

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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Member ratings (8,518)

  • Sidney S.

    Texas City, TX

    Over all such a great novel. The format is not traditional and at the beginning can be a bit confusing if you’re not prepared for it. I loved how the reader gets a personal look at what both thought.

  • Mary P.

    Louisville, KY

    Books about relationships make me emotional...this one KILLED me. Mike and Ben’s connection is relatable and kinda triggering...I couldn’t decide if i wanted them to work out. Beautiful and truthful.

  • Aaron B.

    Asheboro, NC

    Washington’s prose is so incredibly beautiful! The way this text is structured (short vignettes, no quotations for the dialogue, Mike and Ben’s perspective) make for such a rich reading experience.

  • Trudy J.

    Union City, 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.

  • Nicole U.

    San Diego, CA

    A beautiful story about a relationship between 2 partners and their relationships with their families. I loved how the author changed his writing style when writing from Benson and Mike’s perspectives

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