Summary and book reviews of Memorial by Bryan Washington

Memorial

by Bryan Washington

Memorial by Bryan Washington X
Memorial by Bryan Washington
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Oct 2020, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

What happens when a love story collides with the limits of love--and everyone has an opinion?

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.

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, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Brief flashbacks to how Benson and Mike met, and to key moments in their life together – discussions they've had about whether "okay" is good enough, the handful of times Benson remembers Mike saying "I love you" to him – create a tender backstory for a limping romance, leaving the way open for the characters to patch things up, despite the dalliances they've had while apart. The novel suggests that, whether the relationship survives or not, it has truly mattered. Washington excels at exploring the dynamics and psychology of relationships, showing what happens when you throw two hostile characters together, or put two very different families in a room, or have two guys who share a lover meet for the first time. I was especially struck by Benson and Mike's complicated feelings for their fathers. Despite the tough issues the characters face, their story is warm-hearted rather than grim...continued

Full Review Members Only (818 words).

(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

New York Times
In plain, confident prose, Washington deftly records the way the forces of loyalty pull the heartstrings in different directions. The tone and dialogue are cool, almost jaded, gesturing obliquely at the emotions roiling beneath the surface...At times I wished for an expository voice that would elevate all this muddle into something more polished, and therefore transcendent. But that is not what life is like, of course. There is only the muddle and what we make of it.

Washington Post
Memorial is a profoundly sensitive story about the rough boundaries of love in a multicultural society. In fact, no other novel I’ve read this year captures so gracefully the full palette of America. The range of cultures, races, generations and sexual identities contending with one another in these pages is not a woke argument; it’s the nature of modern family life fully realized.

NPR
Readers who fell in love with Washington's perceptive writing haven't had to wait too long for his follow-up, Memorial, a novel that's also set in Houston. Here's some good news for the writer's admirers: Memorial isn't just every bit as brilliant as its predecessor. It's somehow even better...Just like Lot, Memorial is a quietly stunning book, a masterpiece that asks us to reflect on what we owe to the people who enter our lives.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Washington shows readers more of the unforgettable Houston he introduced in his stories, and comfortably expands his range into the setting of Osaka, applying nuance in equal measure to his characters and the places they're tied to.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
There is passion in this novel—fight scenes, sex scenes, screaming matches, and tears—but it reaches a deep poetic realism when Washington explores the space between characters. When so much is left unsaid, that's when this novel speaks the loudest. A subtle and moving exploration of love, family, race, and the long, frustrating search for home.

Library Journal (starred review)
Briskly and brightly told, this deeply affecting work is an astonishingly rendered novel of love in crisis. Highly recommended.

Booklist (starred review)
This is a love story, writ large, that sings...Washington writes about race, class, family, love, and the idea of home with evocative nuance and phenomenal dialogue.

Author Blurb Jacqueline Woodson, author of Red at the Bone and Another Brooklyn
Memorial is a true page-turner. I was entranced, picking this book up every chance I got. Bryan Washington is a great writer and I love the story he tells here. Intriguing. Each character stays with me.

Author Blurb Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Memorial dares to insist on the mundane, thoroughly lived life as a site of perennial hope, joy, and abundance. It casts a fresh take on the American family that becomes truer because of its disparate origins, the queerness of its genesis, and the buoyed wonder it finds in surviving grief and loss towards the rare and forgiving ground of difficult, hard-won love. All of this done in sentences clean and clear as cut glass. This book, in what feels like a new vision for the 21st century novel, made me happy.

Author Blurb Jasmine Guillory, author of The Wedding Date and The Proposal
I was entranced by this deeply original and wholly absorbing novel. Bryan Washington creates characters who are complex, interesting, and three dimensional, and made me care about every single one of them. This book made me think about the nature of love, and family, and anger, and grief, and love again.

Author Blurb Tommy Orange, author of There, There
Bryan Washington's Memorial is stunning. Everything happening in this book is so intimate, sensual, and wise. It is a funny book with much sadness and love. It is a story about relationships, and family, and what it means to have and not have home, in Houston, Texas, and in Osaka, Japan. It is also a surprising page-turner. The scenes and characters here couldn't be more alive and vivid. I love this book.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Using (or Not Using) Quotation Marks in Fiction

James Joyce A lack of quotation marks around dialogue is a pet peeve for some readers. Yet it seems to be an increasingly popular stylistic choice in literary fiction, and one that Bryan Washington opts to use in his debut novel Memorial. You may have also encountered this approach in books by Jesse Ball, Junot Diaz, Bernardine Evaristo, Kate Grenville, Kent Haruf, Daisy Johnson, Miranda July, Cormac McCarthy, Sarah Moss, Sigrid Nunez, Max Porter, Ali Smith, Sarah Winman and Jacqueline Woodson.

Quotation mark usage as we know it only dates back to the 16th century, making it a relatively new form of punctuation. Earlier manuscripts indicated speech in a variety of other ways: with the speaker's name, by italicizing speech or by underlining. ...

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