This is a love story, writ large, that sings in small moments ... Forced apart, and deeper into the families they’d all but separated from, or maybe never knew to begin with, they grow in wholly unanticipated ways. As in his short story collection, Lot (2019), Washington writes about race, class, family, love, and the idea of home with evocative nuance and phenomenal dialogue.
Memorial is a profoundly sensitive story about the rough boundaries of love in a multicultural society. In fact, no other novel I’ve read this year captures so gracefully the full palette of America. The range of cultures, races, generations and sexual identities contending with one another in these pages is not a woke argument; it’s the nature of modern family life fully realized ... Memorial unfolds as a series of isolated moments, many only a page long, some merely a single line. Told first from Ben’s perspective and then from Mike’s, these moments continually blend past and present, enacting each narrator’s confession as a kind of prose poem ... Washington inhabits these two men so naturally that the sophistication of this form is rendered entirely invisible, and their narratives unspool as spontaneously and clearly as late-night conversation ... In a disposable society, Memorial is a testament to the permanence of filial connections, a clear-eyed acknowledgment that our relatives don’t always behave nicely, but they’re with us for life.
A sense of self-estrangement pervades Memorial which centers on the relationship between Mike and his Black boyfriend, Ben (short for Benson) ... From the beginning, then, Washington lays out the various factors that lay a claim on us and help determine who we are: race, nationality, sexual orientation, family. Over the course of the novel these vectors cross and get tangled up, binding Mike and Ben in knots ... In plain, confident prose, Washington deftly records the way the forces of loyalty pull the heartstrings in different directions. The tone and dialogue are cool, almost jaded, gesturing obliquely at the emotions roiling beneath the surface ... Memorial leaves us with the sense that our true selves, like our true names, aren’t necessarily bestowed at birth. They are chosen, too.
Memorial isn't just every bit as brilliant as its predecessor. It's somehow even better ... part of what makes Memorial so believable is Washington's uncanny ability to draw the reader's attention to what's not said as much as what is. The dialogue in the novel is pitch-perfect, but it's in the spaces between the talking — the awkward silences, the questions left unanswered — that the characters reveal themselves ... Just like Lot, Memorial is a quietly stunning book, a masterpiece that asks us to reflect on what we owe to the people who enter our lives.
There are many histories interwoven in Memorial, Bryan Washington’s bittersweet novel of connections and disconnections ... Yes, Memorial is another novel about lost 20y-somethings, but Washington makes the reader care deeply about his characters who above all want to feel a sense of home. That word—home—resonates throughout the novel ... a deeply moving book by a young novelist with a unique voice and a strong sense of optimism.
... if you thought Lot was good, Washington’s first novel is a ground-busting masterpiece ... From this superficial summary, it’s tempting to think (incorrectly) that Memorial is some kind of slightly headier rom-com. But what takes this novel well beyond just a simplistic story of two lovers who eventually learn how to come together by spending time apart is Washington’s decision to reveal the course of their journey — and the depth of both their problems and love for each other — from each of the characters’ perspectives ... We also find out Benson is HIV-positive. (To Washington’s credit, his nuanced portrayal of Benson’s matter-of-fact attitude toward his status is the most accurate I’ve seen in modern literature) ... With a book so layered and, frankly, one that succeeds on so many fronts, it can be difficult to pinpoint the one overarching magical quality that sets it apart. In Memorial, Washington’s descriptions of food and cooking, particularly Japanese delicacies such as abura-age, konbu maki, kamaboko and spinach udon, and okonomiyaki, are to be slurped and savored ... The myriad screaming matches and sex scenes are compelling too ... As a secondary character, Mitsuko is sharp-witted and no-nonsense — and therefore thrilling company. (Her one-liners are priceless) ... But what truly makes Memorial extraordinary — especially the final section — is Washington’s uncanny ability to capture the elusive essence of love on nearly every page ... if there’s one book you should go out of your way to read in 2020, it should be this one.
[Bryan Washington] returns to gift readers with a love story so multifaceted and emotionally nuanced as to feel transformative ... Memorial strikes an extraordinary balance between plot and character development that results in pitch-perfect pacing. Washington’s skill with dialogue and humor carries the narrative surprisingly far, in addition to some stunning imagery and plotting. The balance extends to the amount of context Washington includes for each character’s life. And the settings, the cities of Houston and Osaka, breathe on their own; they are places Washington clearly knows well ... Memorial is a melodic sojourn and an earnest expression of humanity. As the world continues to struggle against isolation and we find ways to hold onto our own hearts in the face of COVID-19 and vast injustice, Memorial feels like even more of a balm.
Good as it is, it’s not Lot ... That said, the novel has a lot going for it, one of the best things being that it’s by Washington. It’s fascinating to watch such a brilliant writer of short fiction expand into the longer form, going deeper into his main characters, who are at once hard to love and hard to forget ... Each man has parents so terrible — mean, alcoholic, self-absorbed, neglectful — that collectively they paint a bleak picture of their generation ... This is no full-blooded gay romance beneath waving rainbow flags ... The nearly plotless story snares us through indirection to produce a pleasingly dark collage. Washington parts the clouds slightly in the final section to offer tentative hopeful signs for his ensemble.
Memoria is a powerfully subtle book about family and relationships ... this novel is an unfettered look at the intersections of race, class and connection, romantic and otherwise ... Filled with realistically drawn awkward interactions, the characters rarely articulate how they feel; they often don’t know how they feel ... Throughout the book, race and class frictions present themselves in fascinating ways ... With an easy flowing style and well developed, complex characters, Memorial is the work of a confident experienced author. It raises thought-provoking questions about race, class, and family, while providing no simple answers. Capturing the messy complexities of life, Memorial makes for a compelling read.
Memorial is a powerful portrait of the challenges, both internal and external, that so often come with loving another human being. With unique and beautiful prose, it weaves together a fascinating story of cultures, families, and lovers both clashing and coming together in the beautiful mess that is loving and living ... While the characters feel lost and out of control, the story, itself, never does. Washington has a strong and purposeful command over every moment. With its soft prose and alternating perspectives, Memorial feels like a dance, effortlessly gliding between the characters’ stories as they discover who they are supposed to be.
Tender, funny, and heartbreaking, this tale of family, food...and growing apart feels intimate and expansive at the same time ... [Washington] comfortably expands his range into the setting of Osaka, applying nuance in equal measure to his characters and the places they’re tied to.
...vividly written ... Washington’s novel is richly layered and thrives in the quiet moments between lovers and family members ... There is passion in this novel—fight scenes, sex scenes, screaming matches, and tears—but it reaches a deep poetic realism when Washington explores the space between characters ... A subtle and moving exploration of love, family, race, and the long, frustrating search for home.