Cover Image: Memorial

Memorial

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Member Reviews

The story of a relationship in Houston and Japan that seems to be inexorably slipping away. The characters were distinctly drawn and the fiction felt true. The shape of the narrative was curious too. This also felt like it was written by a young person, for whatever that is worth.
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Just as Mike’s mother arrives in Houston from Japan, he leaves her with his boyfriend, Benson, in an apartment that they share. Split into three sections, the first and third are told from Benson’s point of view, with a middle section from Mike’s. In the first section, as Mike goes to Japan to care for his estranged father dying of cancer, Benson and Mike’s mother, Mitsuko spend the days rotating around each other, distant by drawn together by their gravity. The middle describes Mike’s experiences in Japan. The third part starts with Mike’s return.

This is a book about family and relationships. Mike and Benson struggle as their relationship reaches five years, asking what it means to be in a relationship. With their own experiences they bring a number of challenges to give and receive love. They are shaped by their own experiences with their families, and their interpretations of those experiences. Mike struggles to connect with a father who abandoned them years ago and moved back to Japan. Benson has shut down when his family pushed him out after learning his secret. Food connects all of the characters. From Osaka to Texas, making and sharing food is a big theme of this book.

I was blown away by this novel. In the first part, the writing is cold, detached, almost unemotional as we see the world through Benson. But the second part changes the point of view to Mike and we get a different writing style, and a different view of the world. Capturing each character and telling their stories through two different lenses shows how good Washington is. At times neither of these characters are very likable or sympathetic, but it’s hard not to feel their pain and still cheer for their successes. The other characters provide some really fun, humorous notes in this occasionally sad story. The way Washington weaves the past and the present together and develops both Benson and Mike at the same time was masterful. The writing is spare and direct, but so full. Do yourself a favor and preorder this book right now. You will not be sorry. Thanks to Netgalley and Riverhead books for the electronic advanced copy. ★★★★★ • eBook • Fiction - Literary, LGBT • Published by Riverhead books on October 27, 2020. ◾︎
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Following up to his highly enjoyable and widely praised short story collection, Lot, Bryan Washington pulls off a fine first novel set in his hometown of Houston - and elsewhere - which is a multi angled love story.  Told in alternating points of view, the story emerges and fills in as it progresses. The reader comes to care for all the flawed participants and rots for some kind of happy ending. Highly recommended.
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Let's say your significant other's parent, whom they haven't seen in years, arrives for a visit, and at the same time, your S.O. decides to return to his home country to help their other parent who is dying. What would you do? It sounds like the set-up to a humorous tale, and there are glimmers of humor from time to time, but don't expect belly laughs. Instead, Bryan Washington's latest work takes the set-up and expands it into a novel of love and its transformative powers, and how, in life, the future is never set in stone.
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Ben and Mike have been living together for about 5 years.  They have a somewhat open relationship that causes jealousies, especially on Ben's part.  Ben is a black man working in a daycare center and Mike is a chef.  As the novel opens, Mike is leaving for Japan to tend to his ailing father on the same day that his mother, Mitsuko is arriving in the U.S. to spend time with Mike.  Since Mike will not be around, Mitsuko and Ben are left to their own devices to forge a relationship - or not.

The novel begins from Mike's perspective and then moves to Ben's.  Both men have come from troubled families that are not very supportive of their sexual orientation.  The novel explores the way Ben and Mike feel about one another, especially Mike's concern that Ben may want to leave him.

The characterizations felt very two-dimensional and I never got a fully dimensional picture of any of the characters.  The chapters were short and often were about what someone did as opposed to what they were thinking.  I believe that this would make an entertaining beach or airplane read but it doesn't have the literary characterization that I appreciate in my favorite novels.
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A moving portrait of complicated parental and romantic relationships. Modern, poignant and intricate yet still really accessible!
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QUICK TAKE: this book is unbelievable. A complicated, complex story of relationships that absolutely blew me away. I loved the alternating POV between Benson and Mike and thought Washington did an excellent job writing beautiful, funny, heartbreaking characters. The story is small and intimate, and I couldn't put it down.
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For me, from the beginning, Benson and Mike seemed like such an unlikely pair...need both of them have been quite so eccentric in their make-up? Imagine depositing your non-English speaking mother on your roommate/lover and immediately leaving the scene to travel to Japan to care for a father you haven't seen in years.. It all seems a bit far-fetched. As I read on and came to learn more about the men witnessed their struggles, and saw the family dynamics emerge, I became immersed in all of their search for legitimacy, intimacy, and love.. "The big moments are never fucking big when they're actually happening" is so true for us all and in this nuanced novel of relationships.
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This book feels like a sleepy, slow-motion car crash - to the point where it's borderline stressful. Let me explain.

MEMORIAL follows the story of two gay men of color in Texas: the process of them coming together, the process of their families falling apart, the process of them falling apart. When Michael, one of the protagonists, learns that his father is dying in Japan, he flies home - leaving his boyfriend, Ben, with Michael's eccentric mother to fend for themselves, and that's where the story starts us off, in the fallout of that strange decision.

The main theme of this book is inevitability. You know from the start what's going to happen - that Michael and Ben will explore the boundaries and the limits of their relationship, that Michael's father will die, that Michael's mother will go back to Japan, that Michael himself will come back to Houston. Ben's life feels like lethargy, the liminal space between big decisions, whereas Michael's feels like the anxiety that comes from decisions that appear out of nowhere and need to be dealt with swiftly and without hesitation. Considering how soupy, sleepy, and quiet this book is, it's no wonder that they each handle their respective lives in varying degrees of complicated, bad decisions.

I really enjoyed parts of this book. It started out very slow - it took me a few weeks to get to the halfway point, but once I got there, I was done by the end of the night. So much of this novel is the slow build-up of tension and pressure. You know that something big is coming. It's just a matter of getting there, and getting through the minutiae, and living life until it happens. The stylistic choice to write the dialogue without quotation marks didn't particularly bother me like it did others, and I rather liked the vignette-style of storytelling, where everything was segmented and compartmentalized and tied together at the end with a big ribbon. Ben and Michael are interesting characters, and I liked reading their individual sections, where they were by themselves reminiscing on their time together as a couple.

But I didn't really like the scenes where the two of them were actually together. Neither character felt... in-character, honestly, when they were in the same room together. They acted strangely and in ways that surprised me. They never, not once in the first 90% of this book, felt like they actually loved each other. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop the entire novel - in either direction - and was expecting that to be a major part of the resolution of this book: whether or not they decide to stay together.

But that's not how the book ends. The book ends with the two of them exactly as at arms-length as they were at the start. I didn't feel like anything changed. Why did I read 300+ pages of two bad boyfriends waffling around and getting exactly nowhere?

I realized, after the fact, because that was exactly what the book was trying to tell me would happen. In the context of the rest of the novel, that ending makes perfect sense. Because for every bit this book was written about inevitability, it was also written to remind us that there rarely is some sort of watershed moment where the skies part and the correct choice is made perfectly clear by some blinding act of God. It's usually just life. You keep living. Humans take the path of least resistance. And I think there's a certain amount of poetry in that, and in the way the book just cuts off in the middle of the climax. Because life doesn't have a climax.

Now - do I think that justifies ALL of the problems I have with the ending? No. I still think that too much was left unsaid. There's a difference between the reality of a book and the reality of, well, real life. Why else do we read books? I needed more. There wasn't enough meat on the bones at the end of MEMORIAL to leave me satisfied. And at the end of the day, it's why I only gave it three stars.
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Having read Lot, I was already convinced of Bryan Washington's talent in evoking relationships, but in Memorial, he levels up to mastery. The central romantic relationship in the book seems doomed from the outset, and yet the attempts to repair it give it integrity and authenticity. The intergenerational relationships, meanwhile, are funny, moving, and even instructive. They reminded me of one of my favorite books of the last few years, Goodbye, Vitamin. My only disappointment with Memorial has to do with its setting. I know absolutely nothing about Houston, so the intimacy and accuracy with which Washington describes it are lost on me. But Houston deserves its bard, and from what I've heard, it has found it in Washington.
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The quote-free dialogue threw me off for a few pages, but, once I got used to the writing style, I was sucked into lives of the fully drawn and dynamic players of this family drama and found the story to be compulsively readable.
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I've had my eye on Memorial ever since I first heard about it a few months ago because I enjoyed Bryan Washington's book, Lot. This is literary fiction at it's finest because it is so different than anything else being published right now. What stood out for me was that it partially takes place in Houston and as a Houston native the description of the different parts of the city just felt so comforting because of the ways the characters describe the city, it's not a perfect city and they know that, but it is their home. The characters are also different, Benson is a day care teacher who grew up middle class and black, while Mike is a chef and he is the son to Japanese immigrants that struggled.. They have been in a relationship for a few years and it has all become very routine. The question becomes why are they together and is  this what they want. A interracial gay couple with service jobs in a steady relationship with struggles is so refreshing to read. Then you add in their parents with their problems and input into their relationship and it makes a perfect story. Mike's dad lives in Japan and he is dying so he goes there to take care of him and his bar, leaving Benson with Mike's mother who is visiting from Japan to stay at their apartment., meanwhile Benson's dad is drinking heavily and his mom is too busy with her new family and his sister doesn't talk to their parents, leaving him to deal with his dad. Washington's writing of the situation adds some quick bits of humor and an introspective reflection on the men's relationships with their families and each other. I love that nothing is quite spelled out in terms of feelings, but instead are hinted at by thoughts and actions. It is realistic and the readers can feel the uncertainty in everything. 

With all of that said, this book is not for everyone. If you want a light hearted rom-com book, I don't suggest this, but if you like complex characters and want to deep dive into a variety of relationships that all have a history you need to understand in order to get why the characters are doing what they are doing, you will love this book..
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I never really clicked with the main characters in this book.  I found the issue of having a life in one culture and responsibility in another to be very interesting as my children live overseas.
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Recently, I’ve complained a lot about whiny but witty, youngish female protagonists who stumble through life in books with very little plot and somehow also little character development. Memorial by Bryan Washington may be the male version of this, but better--and I liked it. Mike and Ben are struggling a few years into their relationship when Mike decides to fly from Houston to Japan to see his dying father. Unfortunately for Ben, Mike’s mother arrives from Japan to visit the day before Mike leaves. Washington builds an interesting structure as the first half and the last chunk of the book are told in Ben’s voice--predominantly present day. The middle shifts to Mike and flashes around from present-day Osaka to Mike’s family to Ben and Mike’s relationship backstory. Like the books I complain about, there is a lot of angst-filled dialogue and young-people zeitgeist, but Memorial gives us some fresh angles and finds deep connections in the conversations. Washington handles race and LGBTQ issues with a deft hand so they feel real and compelling. The relationships between Ben and Mike’s mother and Mike and his father evolve in organically believable ways, and I will not soon forget them. Memorial may not be for everyone, but it’s a beautiful little book about relationships and family that I highly recommend.
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While I like the subject matter and think the writing is good, my readers will not be able to get past the profanity that is laced throughout the book.
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An incredibly tender, and realistic look at all the ways we're able to love one another, sometimes, in spite of everything else. Love can shift, change, and grow and that's nothing to be afraid of. I was felt that this novel was a testament to that. Bryan's LOT collection was also charged with this same raw and heart wrenching energy and he does not disappoint here. If anything, the character focused plot only strengthened his previous ideas. He navigates race, sexuality, gentrification, family issues, etc. in such an impactful and insightful way, that sometimes I'd read a line and go: "Huh, I never thought about it like that.", and more to that, it's just incredibly funny as well. I also have to say the prose here is what really made this book flyby for me, it felt casual but lacked none of the necessary punch. A brilliant novel. Many thanks to NG and the publisher for providing me with an arc.
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How does Bryan Washington tell such heart-wrenching and raw stories? I enjoyed Lot but Memorial is even stronger in my opinion. The relationship between Mike and Benson isn’t one to be envied, but it translates to be so true on the page. Their personalities clash and collide all throughout so that you’re not even sure where you want them to end up. 
I’m usually picky about books that switch between perspectives of characters, but this book manages to make it enrich the story rather than act as a cop-out. 
I love that throughout the suffering and struggles of the novel, there is a presence of humor. It lightens up the read and feels authentic to the men leading the story and the characters alongside them.
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Utterly fantastic, though I expected nothing less from Bryan after his amazing collection, LOT. A quick, spell-binding read, I have no doubt this will be a huge title this fall.
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Memorial is a very character-driven story about two men, Ben and Mike, who have been in a relationship for about four years and the relationship has fizzled out. Mike finds out his father is dying and invites his mother to stay with them. The day after she arrives from Osaka, Mike leaves for Tokyo, leaving his mother with Ben so he could go take care of his father, who he hasn’t seen in fifteen years. This novel, overall, is a story about family, and the bonds between them—both biological family and, at this point, ‘in-laws.’ 

I really enjoyed the relationship between Mitsuko and Ben, and in fairness, Mitsuko was my favorite character in this whole book. She was so strong and patient and wise and I loved seeing her interactions with everyone. Everything about this was ridiculously realistic, from the relationship slump to the troubles Mike and Ben went through and their troubled relationships with their fathers and with each other. 

The first half of this book was especially fantastic. I loved the warmth and familiarity of the first half, and everyone felt real and alive and honest. The second half felt like an entirely different book, and I found that to be jarring and it’s what pulled me out of the story the most. Initially when I read this I thought that I hated the open-endedness of the last few pages, but after some reflection, I think it’s for the best because it’s giving the reader an opportunity to imagine the ending that they want and I really appreciate that. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a slice of life LGBT novel that doesn’t focus on a gay crisis (I loved that this wasn’t a coming out story) and instead just shows a rather normal portrait of mediocrity and things that just might not work out. This is representation at its finest—maybe not the greatest portrait but a real one. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review. I will crosspost my review on goodreads and briefly mention this book in my end of month youtube wrap up, but will post my review on amazon, barnes & noble, twitter, and instagram on release day and highlight the book in an arc video on Youtube closer to the book’s release date.
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Good character studies of Mike, a Japanese-American man who goes back to Japan to care for his dying, estranged father, and Benson, his Black boyfriend left at home who must host Mike's mother when she comes to the US for a visit at the same time her son leaves. It seems like Washington comes from a short story background, which came through in the book. Lots of vignettes and a strong sense of place in both Houston and Osaka. I connected more with Benson's POV narration, and the switch to Mike's perspective jarred me a little. Their complicated relationship to their families and to each other felt very real, and realistic uncertainty lingered at the ending.
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