THE PLOT: ‘Lot’ by Bryan Washington is an ongoing narrative about a mixed-race boy finding his sexuality, interspersed with short stories set in Houston, Texas. The main character is the unnamed son of a black mother and Latino father. Bullied by his older brother, the main character lives a lonely existence as he works in his parents’ restaurant and begins to experiment sexually. Meanwhile the short stories capture the energy of the city through a range of disparate and diverse characters.
RATING: I’m sorry but it’s going to be another three and a half stars. Another well-written, literary book, which often left me confused and dissatisfied. When starting this book, I was unsure whether it was a novel or collection of short stories. By the time I finished this book, I was still unclear. My problem is that it’s neither – the ongoing narrative was interesting but anti-climactic and the short stories kept me at a distance from the characters, rather than being part of this world. Honestly, I might stop reviewing acclaimed literary titles because it’s clear that I need more beginning, middle and end to the literature I consume….
GOOD BITS: The main narrative was introspective and I enjoyed seeing how the relationship between the central character and his parents and siblings developed. Plus, the ending had a good sense of resolution. However, I’d have preferred a novel about the family, with more action/middle/story goal and a linear narrative so we could really get to know the protagonist.
Reflecting this, my favourite stories focused on the arc of a central character. My top three (in order) were ‘Shepherd,’ which is about the inimitable Gloria, a distant cousin who arrives in a family home. ‘South Congress,’ about a Guatemalan undocumented immigrant who deals drugs. ‘Waugh’ – about a male prostitute with complicated friendships.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I fully appreciate that the reason I didn’t gel with this book might be because it’s not written for me. The world-building of Houston felt alien and it was difficult for me to picture the setting (I see a huge freeway in the dark when I think of this book). But I think part of the issue is theme… It seems that many of the short stories in this book were previously printed in various publications (Paris Review, New Yorker etc.). Therefore, I think the author attempted to bring separate pieces into one book by adding the ongoing narrative. This disconnect between the short stories and the main narrative, and the lack of clear thematic intention could be the reason for my dissonance with this novel.
For example, although the ostensible theme of ‘Lot’ is ‘love’, I didn’t feel this from many of the stories, such as ‘Peggy Park’ and ‘Bayou’. One of the earliest stories we’re introduced to is ‘Alief,’ which is about a woman’s affair but wasn’t from the point of view of anyone in the relationship. This set the wrong tone for me as the removed narrator meant there was no character development/analysis/insight.
OVERALL: I think there’s an important audience for this book and many young gay men who are black or of mixed-heritage could get a lot from it. I really don’t want to dissuade anyone from reading it because there’s a lot to dissect and it’s a contemplative, thought provoking work of art. It reminds me a little of ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’ by Max Porter, so if you liked that this could be the right book for you. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right book for me.