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Katia Reviews "Memorial"


Katia reviews Memorial by Bryan Washington


Memorial follows Ben and Mike, a young gay couple who have been together for 4 years and yet have stagnated in their relationship. Mike learns that his estranged father is dying from cancer, and he travels to Japan to see him just as his mother, Mitsuko, flies to Houston to see her son. This leaves Ben and Mitsuko as begrudging roommates, while Mike stays in Osaka with his prickly father.


I will be honest that the beginning of this book can be a little painful. Since you do not yet see the quiet beauty and fortitude of each character, their distance from each other and their inability to communicate feels depressing. However, Washington slowly, subtly endears you to Ben, Mike, and Mitsuko, as well as each and every other strange person who revolves in a loose orbit around them. There are no flat characters, which makes for a rich, wholly satisfying experience. If I make this book sound like a well-prepared dish, this is purposeful: many of the characters learn intimacy and love through cooking and eating together, no matter how much they might not want to. The food in this story is lovingly described, and I appreciated that it is almost a character of its own.


Washington deftly navigates the complex, sometimes tense relationship between the many intersecting identities of his characters. Ben, who is Black, and Mike, who is Japanese, often argue about the specificity of each other's relative place in the world, and it is sometimes difficult for them to understand each other given their different experiences of race and class. Still, as their relationship hobbles along, their care for each other is evident, if understated. Much of the beauty and work of this novel lies in subtext, implications and ambiguities. It reads very much like the daily experience of struggling to navigate each other, trying desperately to connect and often failing, sometimes not.


The conversations in this book may mirror some that you have had in your own life. The silences in this book might be familiar, too. Each character is brave and cowardly in the same way we are all brave and cowardly, and that is what makes this story so delicious, and yet difficult to swallow at times. In the end, after I had finished, Memorial sat with me in a very specific way: sweet, melancholy, with a little bit of a punch.


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