I am really not much of a short story reader and the only ones that I read are those I teach and those I review. Yet I must admit that I was completely taken in by this collection by Bryan Washington. He knows his Houston and he shares it with us and we see it in all of its glory and all of its underbelly. In fact, the Houston we have here is a microcosm of America. We have stories about the coming of age of a biracial son who is discovering his sexuality, a young woman having an affair detonates across an apartment complex, a ragtag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, hurricane survivors, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing and a reluctant legendary creature. The stories are witty and well-written and they show what makes a community, a family, and a life. Actually these stories explore trust and love in ways we have not seen before. The characters are very real (or as real as we want to make them).
This is quite a sensitive look at Houston’s struggling working class and Washington is exact and empathetic. The book grabs us and does not let go and even when we have read the last story, it all stays with us for quite a while. We need to think a bit more about what we read and I am still thinking about it some two weeks after I finished reading it.
Washington and his stories explore the many experiences of families and friends in the margins of the Houston-area. An unnamed narrator is our guide and he navigates an adolescence of poverty while confronting his own identity as a gay man. Meanwhile, in the periphery, we encounter unfaithful spouses, lovers who have been scorned, drug dealers, sex workers and we see the indelible effects of gentrification on those at the bottom of society.
What is really amazing is that this is Washington’s first book. Washington writes with poignant style that cuts through layers to reveal a tenderness of the characters. None of the characters that we meet in Lot are strangers. They are our mothers, sisters, neighbors, coworkers, service men/women, friends and Washington succeeds in bringing them together pulls them all together through short stories, taking us in-between the cracks and showing how these characters feel and what drives them (or doesn’t, as is sometimes the case when writing so real). This is a series of stories that are told with no agenda yet we read of “homosexuality and identification, gentrification and its victims, and the power of family to both save us and fail us.”