“Memorial: A Novel” by Bryan Washington— Love, Family, Anger and Grief

Washington, Bryan. “Memorial: A Novel”, Riverhead Books, 2020.

Love, Family, Anger and Grief

Amos Lassen

Benson is a Black day care teacher and Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant They’ve been together for a few years but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. Everything seems good and they love each other but….

When Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, he flies across the world to say goodbye. While in Japan he is transformed when he discovers the truth about his family and his past. Back in Texas, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates in a strange domestic situation that ends up meaning  much more to each of them than they could ever have thought. Without Mike’s pulling at him, Benson begins to push outwards, beginning to realize that he might just know what he wants out of life and be able to get it.

Both men will change in a myriad of ways that will either make them stronger together or destroy everything they’ve ever known. Maybe they’ll all be okay in the end. This is a storyabout family in all its many forms, vulnerability, becoming who you’re supposed to be, and the limits of love. What Washington does so brilliantly is to show thatthe mundane, thoroughly lived life can be filled  with joy and hope because of its diverse origins, the queerness of its onset, and the wonder it finds in surviving grief and loss. Here is “a new vision for the 21st century novel, made me happy.” 

The characters are complex, interesting, and three dimensional, and we quickly care about them. Sadness and love come together as we earn what having a home really means. The novel looks at “what we do and what we say, what we need and what we allow ourselves to have.”

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