Book Review: Memorial by Bryan Washington


About the Book:

The debut novel from a rising literary star: a funny, sexy, sensual examination of two young men falling in and out 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 is 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, realising 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.

My Thoughts:

This one was a mixed bag for me. It started off slow enough that I almost gave up, but pushing on, I sort of fell into it and kept on reading, but even by the end I remained ambivalent.

The one thing I really didn’t like was the lack of quotation marks for dialogue. Now, I know this is an increasing trend, particularly in contemporary fiction, and I’ve read – and enjoyed – plenty of novels written in this style. But it’s not as simple as just leaving them out. There has to be something else, stylistically, to indicate dialogue. Otherwise it just gets confusing. In this book, there just wasn’t enough difference between internal and spoken dialogue, and some of the characters were too much alike to distinguish their ‘voices’. So I ended up having to reread at times, just to get the drift on what was happening. This was definitely a factor that affected my overall enjoyment. Another was how frank it was. I’m just not interested in reading about the mechanics of sex. I understand this was ‘life literature’ and plenty of people’s lives are like that, but it got monotonous and wasn’t particularly interesting in the first place.

However, this novel did have some incredible moments of human connection and these outweighed the negatives enough to carry it through. It also addressed some significant issues to do with diversity and sexuality. Racism was explicitly explored within many thought provoking scenes. Above all though, the relationships between sons and their fathers and sons and their mothers was intimately explored and I loved this aspect of the story, for both Mike and Benson. No surprises then that the part I’ve pulled to share is related to this part of the story.

‘And it was in a drawer that I found a photo of the two of us.
The hoodie I’m rocking looks entirely too big on me. My father’s still got a headful of hair, and some of it sits on his shoulders. He’s smiling way too wide for his face, with his hands under my arms, and I’m sitting on his lap with the ocean and the pier and the whole country behind us. I don’t know if I’m smiling because I was told to or because I was happy, but my father’s expression is entirely unmistakable.
Ma must’ve taken the photo when we were in Cali. I don’t remember her doing that. But I guess that’s the thing: 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.
So I’ll take that photo with me.
I’ll say that’s what happened.
It’ll be all that’s left, as I step onto the plane.
And when I land on the tarmac, back on the ground, unbelievably, inconceivably, until the day I die, I am taking my dad home, I am taking him back, he will follow me wherever the fuck I end up next.’

There is a lot of hype surrounding this novel. Reviewers are raving. Barack Obama thinks the author is the bomb. Honestly, it’s no Normal People, not by a long shot, but it’s very ‘real’ and if that’s your preference within contemporary fiction then this one may just appeal to you.


Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of Memorial for review.

About the Author:

Bryan Washington has written for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, BuzzFeed, The Paris Review, Boston Review, Tin House, One Story, GQ, FADER, The Awl, and Catapult. He lives in Houston, Texas.

Published by Atlantic
Released November 2020

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Memorial by Bryan Washington

  1. I share your preferences on quotation marks (or lack thereof) in dialogue! I must admit it feels like one of the reasons I couldn’t quite love Normal People as much as everyone else has. To me it really flattens the narrative. I’m willing to own if this makes me a somewhat lazy or ‘un-literary’ reader, but there you have it! This is a great review – I really appreciate the balance you’ve struck.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. It’s a bit hard to review those mixed bag reads. Really highlights how everyone has such different tastes.
      If I’m honest, I think of the lack of quotation marks a bit of a lazy writing technique that just makes reading harder. There are punctuation rules for a reason!

      Liked by 1 person

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