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‘Memorial’ book review: More than a gay love story

Keyur Basnet

Keyur Basnet

‘Memorial’ book review: More than a gay love story

I especially liked the brilliant exploration of the parent-child relationship. For anyone struggling with issues with their parents, reading Memorial is extremely cathartic

There are some books that I think everyone would benefit from reading. ‘Memorial’ by Bryan Washington is one of those rare ones that nudges our conscience and forces us to question our beliefs. The impact might not be immediately felt but stories like this, I believe, are essential to slowly chip away our biases and stubbornness. 

Memorial is the story of two gay men, Micheal and Benson. They have been together for four years and a kind of complacency has set in. Then Mike leaves for Japan, to visit his dying father. Ben is stuck at home in Texas, America, with Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, whose visit coincides with Mike’s trip. Soon, Mike is helping his father at his bar, thinking of taking over the family business. He has also met someone. Ben has settled into a comfortable, homey routine with Mitsuko. The distance gives the two time to reevaluate their relationship and figure out what they want for themselves.

But Memorial is so much more than a gay love story. The focus isn’t just on the couple’s relationship. It’s about what made them the people they are—their convoluted, dysfunctional relationships with their parents, coming to terms with their sexuality, and the lessons they learn as they navigate life’s ups and downs. Then there are all these side characters whose stories teach you a thing or two about love, loss, and being true to yourself.

I especially liked the brilliant exploration of the parent-child relationship. For anyone struggling with issues with their parents, reading Memorial is extremely cathartic. It makes you feel less alone—that maybe you aren’t the only unlucky one as you sometimes tend to think, that perhaps our relations with our parents can never be fully understood or that they can never be as good as we wish.

Washington’s prose is stunning. I suppose that is often the case when an author is clear about his subject and characters. He also writes with a lot of empathy. You feel for even the most problematic of characters—and there are a few of them. Reading Memorial is a stark yet comforting reminder that all human beings are inherently flawed, and that makes this unjust world feel a little more bearable. 

About the author

Bryan Washington is an American writer whose debut short story collection ‘Lot’ was published in 2019. Memorial, his first novel, came out a year later but rights to adapt it to television were sold before its publication. His work has been published in The New York Times, New Yorker, and BBC, among others. He is the recipient of the O. Henry award and the 2020 International Dylan Thomas Prize. 

Four stars

Fiction

Memorial

Bryan Washington 

Published: 2020

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Pages: 303, Paperback