Today’s book review is brought to you in association with the LoveReading Ambassador Book Buzz Blog Tour I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in, to celebrate the recent release of the book Memorial by Bryan Washington in the U.K. Thank you to LoveReading U.K. and the publishers Atlantic Books for gifting me an advanced reader copy of Memorial for review.
tw: offensive language and slurs, homophobia, abuse, child neglect
After reading Bryan Washington’s award-winning debut novel; Lot: Stories and absolutely loving it, I was greatly anticipating Memorial. Set in Houston, Texas, Washington’s second novel is a stirring, profound expression of complex relationships and enduring love. Benson and Mike are a queer, interracial couple that get separated when Mike decides to travel to Japan to be with his dying father at the same time that Mike’s mother, Mitsuko arrives in Houston to visit him.
Washington has very choppy writing style in this book that was unsettling at first, it felt very anecdotal, almost skeletal but it still managed to hold a lot of meaning and intent. I thought the dialogue was fantastic, it was realistic and there was a strong sense of how these characters’ pasts have shaped them and the way they interact with others.
Benson and Mike’s relationship felt like a ticking time bomb that constantly kept me on edge; there’s the obvious fact that they love each other but also the constant fights that leave them questioning their relationship. They’ve both suffered abuse from their parents, particularly their fathers and this translates through their highly-strung relationship. I loved the grittiness of it and it made them feel like truly complex characters.
I also have to applaud the way this book explores the nuances of race, identity and queerness. Since Benson and Mike are an interracial pairing, their cultural differences sometimes creates a friction that puts pressure on their relationship. We see Mike’s identity conflict when he’s in Japan trying to reconcile his Japanese heritage with his Americaness. And then there’s the rampant homophobia they each have to face, predominantly from their fathers, but in almost all other aspects of their lives. On the point of fathers, this book does well to explore the theme of redemption; it questions how much fathers have to be humbled before estranged relationships can once again be restored, if at all.
The ending of this book felt a bit too cliff-hangery for me mainly in terms of Benson and Mike’s fraught relationship, where I thought that some issues were left unresolved. But it also felt intentional as well, probably meant to emphasise Mitsuko’s ‘whatever happens, happens’ ideology. Washington didn’t disappoint with this novel, it was as profoundly expressive as I hoped it would be.