Review: Memorial

4 stars

THE PLOT: ‘Memorial’ by Bryan Washington is a literary novel about two men in a complicated long-term relationship. When Japanese-American Mike learns that his estranged father is dying, he decides to travel from America to Osaka to take care of him. The problem is Mike’s mother has come to visit Houston and he must leave her as roommate to his live-in Black boyfriend, Benson. Both Ben and Mike’s families aren’t comfortable with them being gay, but as Ben forges a relationship with Mike’s mother, he is forced to confront his own family struggles. And, he is made to confront the truth about his and Mike’s relationship.

RATING: This is a completely unique novel, fully deserving of four-stars. The author has such a strong voice, which seems to have developed from his earlier short story collection (Lot) into a confident and distinctive style. With short chapters and quick-change scenes, this novel keeps you on your toes and you never know what to expect. Although I initially wasn’t sure about the sparse writing-style, with barely any description and lack of speech marks, I quickly settled into it and enjoyed what the author was trying to express through these choices. This is definitely a thought-provoking book that truly makes you think about the art form. It’d be great for a book club or buddy reads because there’s so much to unpack.

GOOD BITS: This novel is all about complex characters. No-one is good or bad, everyone is a flawed human who is trying their best. I loved how the dual POV for Mike and Ben allowed us to understand their somewhat abusive (imo) relationship better. As the reader learns more about each families’ history and Ben and Mike’s relationship, we wonder whether they should all drift apart. However, it’s impossible to judge these characters because they are all being fueled by trauma and they show their love the best way they can. The ambiguity of the characters in this novel is its strength.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: The story was frustrating at times because it relies on the trope of misunderstandings between characters. It’s one of those books where you want to scream at them all to have a conversation and talk about everything like grown-ups. Mike’s inability to process the trauma of his dad’s abandonment when he was a child means he is extremely selfish and lashes out at everyone – he seems like a teenager and I wonder if the author could have pared this back. Maybe it’s not a valid criticism because it’s a key feature of the book, but sometimes it’s so emo you want to roll your eyes at the characters.

OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to fans of Real Life by Brandon Taylor (because of the complicated gay relationship and melancholy tone), Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (because of the themes of grief and family), and Normal People by Sally Rooney (because it all hinges on misunderstandings between characters). However, if you like rich, detailed description or hate swearing in novels, this might not be for you. Overall, I really enjoyed how this book broadened my perspectives and made me think. Though it’s outwardly a quiet, introspective novel you can see how much work has gone into it and it really packs a punch.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Atlantic Books for my #gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.