Bookbed reviews: ‘Memorial’ by Bryan Washington

by Jodesz Gavilan

THE STORY

A funny, sexy, profound dramedy about two young people at a crossroads in their relationship 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 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.
Memorial is a funny and profound story about family in all its strange forms, joyful and hard-won vulnerability, becoming who you’re supposed to be, and the limits of love. Available in online bookstores / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

“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.”

This novel explores the nuances of relationships, spoken words that society deems better left unsaid, and complicated family dynamics. It is a take on the concept of endings, and how people deal with these things differently, depending on one’s determination, or perhaps understanding of how the world works.

Ben and Mike are two men dealing with many things separately—Mike’s father is dying while Ben’s parents still cannot acknowledge their past mistakes. Together, they are also trying to make sense of the unmistakable feeling that their relationship is about to end. We see it in the little things, in the details delicately placed on the pages, the thoughts unsaid by the flawed characters.

I guess that’s the beauty—or maybe curse—of endings. When you ask former couples what gave them the feeling that things were about to end, they’d answer differently. It can be very subjective, and that’s okay.

There is a certain lightness in Washington’s prose that disarms readers. I let my guard down many times, only to be punched in the gut by the heaviness of the novel’s themes. It is brutally honest and heartbreaking, but at the same time calming. The author employs subtle cues in laying out issues of culture, yet does not hold back on being too in the face when it comes to love in all of its form.

tl;dr

Memorial by Bryan Washington did a lot of things to me. It made me cry, laugh, and assess the way I interact with people. I can’t recommend it enough. ☁️

This review is originally published @jodeszgavilan on Instagram. Follow her for more book recommendations. Read our Review Policy here.

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