Memorial, the new novel by Bryan Washington, is at once fresh and new and daring, while also feeling wholly familiar. I know these characters, intimately, Benson and Mike. They're the friends you love, the ones who piss you off because they can't always articulate what they want or what they're feeling; in that way, it's very much a book about we show love when we don't have the words. Sometimes that's in a kitchen, preparing a meal for someone, and sometimes that means flying to Japan to care for your ailing father, which is where the book begins.
Mike, a Japanese-American chef who works at a Mexican restaurant, flies across the globe to say goodbye to his estranged father. He leaves his boyfriend, Benson, a Black daycare teacher, alone with Mike's mother who has just flown in from Japan. The two must figure out how to live and cohabitate until Mike comes back. (He is coming back, right?) The relationship between a person and their significant other's parents can be a challenge, and this is amplified when you're sharing a one-bedroom apartment for an indeterminate amount of time. Many of the books most touching and comedic elements come from the complications that stem from sharing such a tight space. Benson and Mike's mom find surprising ways to make it work and forge an unlikely bond.
Flashbacks and snapshots of Benson and Mike's lives permeate the book.
As a writer, they made me supremely jealous. In the early time jumps you learn about how they met, how they met again, how they first had sex all those years ago. It's all well and good, but the further you get in this masterwork, you realize that Bryan Washington has not simply been parsing out intimate details at random, but rather telling the full and complete story of their relationship. Each bit could be cut out and pasted together into a novel all its own, something I am absolutely considering doing if things continue to get worse and we have to stay inside for the winter.
Memorial is a modern, queer love story that also touches on HIV, non-monogamy, and location. Washington paints as enticing a picture of its main characters as it does its two settings, Houston and Osaka, Japan.