Fiction, literary fiction

Book Review: Memorial by Bryan Washington Memorial: A Novel (9780593087275): Washington, Bryan: Books

“That loving a person means letting them change when they need to. And letting them go when they need to. And that doesn’t make them any less of a home. Just maybe not one for you. Or only for a season or two. But that doesn’t diminish the love. It just changes forms.”

Benson and Mike are a couple living together in Houston. Benson is a daycare teacher who is African American and Mike is a chef who is Japanese American. They’ve been together for a few years but they are in a rut and are now wondering if they are still a couple and if they are, why are they? Mike’s mom shows up suddenly at their apartment just as he finds out his dad, who left when he was young, is dying in Japan. Mike decides to drop everything and go be with his dad and leaves Ben alone with his mom.

This book was on a lot of year end “best of” lists last year, so I was curious and really wanted to read this. Unfortunately, this was yet another book that fell flat for me. I completely understand that it was meant to be a contemplative book since both characters were going through transformations in their lives. But like most character driven books, a lot happened while nothing happened.

“We take our memories wherever we go, and what’s left are the ones that stick around, and that’s how we make a life.”

I enjoyed Mike’s story better even if I didn’t understand why he dropped everything to be with his estranged dad. His flashback story (there was A LOT of this) was cohesive and I could see how his time in Japan left an impact on his life. Part of the book blurb seems to imply heavily that Ben and Mike’s mom, Mitsuko had this heavy impact on each other, but I didn’t get that. It just felt like two people living together who cooked a lot and had conversations but nothing major.

It was good to see a book that featured two minority queer leads and it was just a shame that the story felt as lackluster as their relationship. I didn’t particularly think the storytelling was great and having an ambiguous ending definitely didn’t help. As a former Houston native, recognizing some of the locations was fun but that was about it. Well, maybe a bit of Mike’s dad, Eiju’s prickly character intrigued me but not enough to cover the things I didn’t like about the book.

“How often do you get to learn that lesson? That sometimes you just lose?”

There was a lot of “fucking” in the book and I used that word because that’s exactly how it was mentioned. There’d be a fight or yet another boring conversation and from nowhere weird descriptions involving groping and squeezing and awkward body movements would pop up and one of them would narrate they were fucking. Have I mentioned it wasn’t particularly great story telling?

I’ll stop beating on the book but as you can tell, it isn’t one I’d recommend. I gave it two stars because I actually finished it. I did this on audio and it was narrated by the author, which I think was a mistake because he didn’t sound enthusiastic and sounded flat. I don’t know if reading the book would have been better since I heard there were no quotation marks. So, read at your own peril but I’d advise skipping this one and picking up another title.


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