Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book


Rate this book
A funny, sexy, profound dramedy about two young people at a crossroads in their relationship and the limits of love.

Benson and Mike are two young guys who live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson's a Black day care teacher, and they've been together for a few years -- good years -- but now they're not sure why they're still a couple. There's the sex, sure, and the meals Mike cooks for Benson, and, well, they love each other.

But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates, an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted. Without Mike's immediate pull, Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life and have the goods to get it.

Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or fracture everything they've ever known. And just maybe they'll all be okay in the end. Memorial is a funny and profound story about family in all its strange forms, joyful and hard-won vulnerability, becoming who you're supposed to be, and the limits of love.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published October 27, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Bryan Washington

9 books925 followers
Bryan Washington is an American writer. He published his debut short story collection, Lot, in 2019 and a novel, Memorial, in 2020.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
5,148 (16%)
4 stars
11,733 (37%)
3 stars
10,653 (34%)
2 stars
2,848 (9%)
1 star
638 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,259 reviews
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,425 reviews8,325 followers
December 8, 2020
I so loved the representation of queer men of color in Memorial. Beyond the importance of featuring both a queer Asian man and a queer Black man, Bryan Washington imbues these characters with depth. Mike is a fat Japanese American chef who has a lot of sex instead of confronting his internal issues. Benson is a Black, HIV positive day care teacher who is more on the timid side though he too also bottles up how his family trauma affects him. Washington highlights their racialized experiences (e.g., microaggressions they receive from white men) and portrays Mike’s experience with fatness and Benson’s experience with HIV with sensitivity and care. For example, he writes one scene in which Mike and Benson have sex for one of the first times and Mike tells Benson they can turn the lights off if he wants, which made me feel so sad, even though Benson responds in a considerate way. I also enjoyed how this novel finally centers an interracial relationship that does not involve a white gay man. I would love to read more books about queer Asian, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous folx dating one another and the nuances of that experience.

I further appreciated the sharp characterizations of both Mike and Benson in relation to how their families affect their psychological health. When reading Memorial, the phrase “queer men of color are allowed to be messed up because of their families too.” Through compact yet affective dialogue, Washington shows how Mike and Benson’s painful relationships with their families – especially their fathers – negatively impacts their own communication patterns and how they feel about themselves and others. There are funny scenes that involve Benson and Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, yet a heartfelt and well-written feeling of sadness and loss pervades Memorial even in its more relaxed moments.

Despite these positive features, I give Memorial three stars because Benson and Mike’s relationship is so, so dysfunctional and not really a pleasure to read. I feel like my rating shows how ratings of anything are subjective as heck – like Washington definitely does a five-star job of portraying three-dimensional, emotionally-damaged queer men of color. Yet, my three-star rating comes more from my own feelings about the book, which I recognize stem from my biases and individual preferences. For most of the book, it appears as if Benson and Mike pretty much just dislike one another and project their unresolved traumas onto one another. For example, there are a few sections of dialogue in which Mike will begin to speak and Benson will immediately cut him off with something along the lines of like “please stop fucking with me, Mike” or something along those lines. Again, these unhealthy relationship dynamics make sense given Mike and Benson’s internal issues which neither of them has taken intentional steps to resolve. Still, I wanted more growth from either character, like more healing or even self-awareness about their patterns and what they need to do to shed some of their inner damage. I sense that readers who feel more okay with observing these patterns of behavior without much growth will like this book more than I did.

Overall, I look forward to reading more of Washington’s writing and I did enjoy Memorial more than Lot mostly because these characters had more room to breathe and show their varied dimensions. My fav m/m romance book of 2020 is still Such a Lonely, Lovely Road by Kagiso Lesego Molope though I would still encourage people who are interested in Memorial to give it a try.
Profile Image for Paris (parisperusing).
187 reviews3 followers
February 7, 2021
“There’s this phenomenon that you’ll get sometimes—but not too often, if you’re lucky—where someone you think you know says something about your gayness that you weren’t expecting at all. Ben called it a tiny earthquake. I don’t think he was wrong. You’re destabilized, is the point. How much just depends on where the quake originates, the fault lines.”

For my first time reading Bryan Washington's work, this was one helluva first impression. Memorial is a beautifully layered debut novel, one I've spent days wrestling with over a proper rating — but it is so deserving of the fifth star.

With his debut novel, Memorial, Bryan Washington illustrates a hilarious yet heartbreaking portrait of two gay men of color — one Black, the other Japanese — trying to salvage the bones of their dysfunctional relationship and affection for each other. Even as the injuries of loss and separation threaten to tear them apart, Washington shows us there is no power more invincible than that of true love. In all my life, I can’t say I’ve discovered a book that so open-heartedly lays bare the fondness that can exist between gay men and the fathers who forsake them. What Washington achieves in Memorial is a drop-dead beautiful story that speaks poignantly to the fear of letting go of the ones we love most.

I have so much more to say, so please bear with me. (Comprehensive review to come.)

Thank you, Riverhead friends, for allowing me to read this book in advance.
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
477 reviews37.7k followers
February 23, 2022
Hmmm I don't like think slice of life books are for me....

What I mean by this is that there is typically very little plot and all catered and centered around the characters and (hopefully) the writing. This book was no exception. I listened to this on audiobook and the writing was really good. Probably the most memorable thing about it. I would say I connected more with Mike more than Benson; his story was just more impactful and engrossing to me. But Benson's relationship with Mike's mom???? CHEF'S KISS!!! Ms. Mitsuko takes the cake for most memorable character for me!

However, I'm still very interested in reading future books from Washington; this book really reminded me of Real Life by Brandon Taylor, another decent 'slice of life' book for me.

Was it very memorable? No. But still powerful in some aspects: relationship of two gay men (one of whom is HIV+), and the intermittent struggles of familial ties, especially with our parents. One of the main things that I really liked about this was a 'realistic' and humane portrayal of relationships- that sometimes, the person who you think is perfect isn't, while also realizing that you probably aren't either. And that my friends, is called GROWTH !!

Material Gorls, we love to see it.

Twitter | Bookstagram | Youtube |
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,919 reviews35.4k followers
January 14, 2022
Library overdrive audiobook... read by Orlagh Cassidy

We are introduced to a gay couple living together in Houston, Texas. Mike is Asian and works as a chef.
Benson is African-American, and is a daycare teacher.

Towards the beginning of the book - the author describes in graphic details Mike and Benson fucking....nothing subtle about it.
I admit it threw me ...and I questioned the validity and purpose....

As I kept reading though...( sex scenes less detailed)... I was beginning to see where this book was going. This couple was struggling in just about all areas of synchronicity ....except when in the act of nooky coupling. The sex scenes were phlegmatic though —two desensitized men going at it - complacent- emotionless. Their five year relationship was shaky .... and the fact that Benson is HIV positive - didn’t seem to be the culprit to their lukewarm enthusiasm towards each other.

The relationship between these two men were complicated- not only was their strife - bickering - and - disharmony between Mike and Benson,
but we see how their relationship affected their individual family members - and how their individual families created dissonance for them: both as individuals and as a couple.

We meet Mike’s mother, Mitsuko. She comes to live with her son and homosexual lover - just ‘because’....
but the funny part is that her Mike was just about out the door to Osaka, Japan.... to visit his terminally sick father, Eiju ( whom he had a shitty relationship with).
So....Mike’s mother ends up hanging out with Benson for the next couple of months ( lose one roommate - gain another).

There are tender moments - ( many endearing moments are between Benson and Mike’s mother, Mitsuko), funny dialogue with warmth - great food descriptions- ( yummy noodles, etc.),
heartbreaking dialogue.....( both Mike and Benson’s parents were divorced; It created some basic mistrust between them),

There is grumpiness - screaming scenes - ( driven from past hurts of abuse and abandonment), but it’s jovial in nature, too.

The first part of the book is narrated by Benson.
The middle section of the book is narrated by Mike. (Mike gets reacquainted with his dad in Japan)
Benson narrated the last section.

At times this story felt disjointed....
There was excessive profanity....
The characters themselves were one dimensional...
BUT....I couldn’t put the book down.
So, it had something going for it.

I finish this book over 24 hours ago. I delayed writing review — knowing I had mixed feeling.
Mostly I liked it: THE WRITING WAS SO IN MY FACE...it was hard to discount that basic fact.
But... I still feel the characters needed a broader development.
And...the story might have been developed more as well...

Taking everything into consideration.... I’m glad I read it. Happy to have read my first Bryan Washington. I own a used copy of “Lot”, ( thanks to our little neighbor libraries), but haven’t read it.

Bryon Washington has a talent for writing - not perfect - but he’s gifted.
I would definitely read him again.
My goodness - the guy is only 27 years old!

3.8 stars...rounding up to 4 stars

Profile Image for Anna Avian.
392 reviews50 followers
January 14, 2022
I listened to the audiobook and let me just say this – Bryan Washington’s voice, narrating Benson, is so extremely monotonous and lacking emotion it almost put me to sleep several times.

This book was a disappointment. So slow and underwhelming. Basic level of storytelling, language is totally flat. Short, pointless sentences. No plot to speak of. Characters lack depth and personality. Mike and Benson’s relationship is built on their mutual laziness rather than affection and passion. I couldn’t even understand exactly what kind of meaning they were trying to salvage from it since there was obviously none.
Profile Image for mwana .
366 reviews207 followers
January 31, 2023
Meet Benson and Mike. In Benson's own words:
It's like we're in some fucked-up rom-com, I said. It's like we're both fucked up rom-com villains.
These are two flawed men shaped by many things but most especially their families. The story is told entirely in reported speech. There are no quotation marks to showcase dialogs. The vignettes are brief and don't give you any chance to percolate before you're bombarded with the next memory, fight, moment, feeling.

This book questions a lot about life. It's a slice of life story with no plot to speak of just following the messed up love lives of Benson and Mike.

As a budding existentialist, this book left me with a lot to think about.

On existence... Are we other people thinking of us?
You’re taking up space in another human’s brain, she said. You’re a foreign entity. A parasite. That’s a lot by itself.

Wait until you’re our age, she said. See who’s still around.
On living...
what if it doesn’t work out? I asked. What if you don’t know? Nobody ever knows if it’ll work, said Ximena. That’s why you do this shit. To find out.

we take our memories wherever we go, and what’s left are the ones that stick around, and that’s how we make a life.
On loving... Loving your person over many years
loving a person means letting them change when they need to. And letting them go when they need to. And that doesn’t make them any less of a home. Just maybe not one for you. Or only for a season or two. But that doesn’t diminish the love. It just changes forms.
The writing is lyrical and beautiful. Few words are chosen but they pack a punch. This is the kind of book that stays with you. That makes you turn it over again and again asking yourself if you missed something. It also assumes its reader is really smart. Unfortunately for it, my attention deficiency isn't designed to inhale a book continuously until an unspoken interlude. I had to constantly reread chapters because I had missed something or had overlooked something (I had). The book is also a bit interactive, a fictional memoir that also has photographic evidence of where our characters are.

Mike is Japanese and Benson is black. Their stories are immersive, evocative, authentic. I learnt so much about Japan that I realised how little I actually knew about Japan. Washington successfully created a tapestry of life that simultaneously made me a voyeur and a participant. I was there when Benson was cooking with Mike's mother. I was there when Mike was fighting with Eiku. I was there when our MCs were reliving moments from their pasts that were pivotal to who they were as adults.

However, the book promptly let go of my hand when it approached the ending. I'm still not sure what I think happened is what actually happened. Does that mean I will read this book again? But, of course.

But this is life too, said the guy, smiling.
Yeah. It’s different. But it’s still happening.

If you'd like a taste of Bryan's work, here is a short story published in the New York Magazine . It has Bryan's aversion to quotation marks and affinity for food.
Profile Image for David.
590 reviews124 followers
February 1, 2021
This is a story of fairly miserable people, who just want to be loved and accepted, treating other people, who also just want to be loved and accepted, rather miserably.

Despite blurbs from the likes of Ocean Vuong, Jacqueline Woodson, and Tommy Orange, it did not strike me as "funny" or "sexy" or particularly "profound". It is neither "a true page-turner" nor "a masterclass in empathy". And - despite representation on several prize longlists - I do not consider it to be well-written. It is, however, uncommon: a novel whose main characters are queer and on the BIPOC spectrum; a narrative that is indirect and notable for what it leaves unsaid.

What follows is a list of what did not work for me. As always, these are just my opinions and you are free to disagree. Obviously, when it comes to Memorial, most do!

- There is an abundance of telling and a paucity of showing.

- It is very hard to distinguish one character from another on the basis of their dialogue alone. There are similarities of voice and style of speech, to the point of interchangeability. And most exchanges are snarky and sound more like blockbuster movie jargon than how people actually talk to one another.

- It is saturated with every variation of the root words "fuck" and "shit" imaginable, giving things a Valley Girl "like" and "you know" cadence. We're talking several hundred uses in a book that is 303 pages long. By the time Mitsuko screams an all-caps "FUCK" at an appropriate moment toward the end, it makes almost no impact at all. I stopped wondering if the profanity was used to show anger, apathy, a lack of intelligence, or an inability to articulate. I stopped caring.

- There are many choices of descriptive language I found awkward. One person watches as another "douses" meat with salt before "drizzling" salt and pepper themselves. Mist, escaping from a food truck window, "teetered from the breeze". A waiter "ladles tortillas into a bowl". A woman "swivels up the escalator".

- The whole "wounded, sensitive person who pushes everyone away from them even as they desperately try to make a connection" trope is way overdone.

This book will continue to resonate with many on an emotional level. That's wonderful, really. It's one big reason most of us read. And I expect Memorial to progress far into the 2021 Tournament of Books for that reason alone. But it did not hook me, and the best I can give it is

2.5 stars

P.S. If you step on broken glass and shards become embedded in your foot, please do not let a partner (who just grabbed you by the arm, dragged you to the floor, and slapped your face) use a kitchen knife to treat your wound. Not if you want to be certain you'll still have that foot next month.

P.P.S. If you ever see a big-city pigeon refuse to get out of the way of an oncoming car, pry up a quarter that is "in the concrete", and then fly off with it in its beak, PLEASE take a video because that is one mighty special bird.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.4k followers
January 14, 2022
“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 each other in these pages is not a woke argument; it’s the nature of modern family life fully realized.

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Chelsea Bruning.
252 reviews14 followers
January 14, 2022
A list of things I didn't like about MEMORIAL:
-incredibly dry, flat characters
-absolutely basic level storytelling (9th grade English teachers would be disappointed in this)
-excessive profanity makes up 1/3 of the book (I'm not anti-profanity, it just feels like he was using it to up his word count)
-no quotation marks (again? why is this a thing? maybe Sally Rooney fans will appreciate it)
-do people really "squeeze" each other's body parts that much?
-the most uninventive writing I have ever come across. There could have been a story here, but there wasn't.

A list of things I liked about MEMORIAL:
-when it was over.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,209 reviews26k followers
January 12, 2021
This book ended up being just okay for me. Things I loved about this book include the diverse representation, reading about two queer men of color was really something special and something I'd like to read more of. Mike is Japanese American and Ben is Black, Ben is also HIV+ so he has a very unique perspective, and their relationship was really interesting and sad to read about. I love that this writing feels so real and raw, but at the same time I feel like there wasn't much of a plot. This is definitely more of a slice of life type of story, which sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn't. But overall I found this story to be kind of slow and it really drags at times, I listened to the audiobook, which was actually really good and the author narrates Ben's chapters which I liked, but if I didn't have the audiobook I probably would have enjoyed this even less because there are no quotation marks around the dialogue and I loathe that writing style so much. But luckily with the audiobook it wasn't a huge problem for me.

Overall, this book was okay and I'd definitely be interested in checking out more books from this author!
Profile Image for Jennifer Welsh.
218 reviews160 followers
July 23, 2022
I once read a thread on goodreads discussing which reviews, in star-measure, were hardest to write. I think the responder had trouble writing their 3-star reads. For me, hands-down, it’s the 5-star ones.

When I love something, it’s despite its flaws. But I rarely think a work of genius is flawless, and I’m not sure I’ve ever fallen in love with anything flawless. The analytical mind, so alive in compartments like pros and cons, dissolves with love. So, how do I express what is wordless, and how can I ever recommend something that elicits such a personal response?

I live my life mostly through relationships. It’s where I both waste most time, and have the richest experiences. I think relationships are difficult for all of us, but they are where we learn most deeply what it means to be human in this strange, strange life.

Memorial is a story of relationships. The central one is between a mixed-race, Black and Japanese, gay male couple in their 20s, who’ve been living together in Houston for four years. It’s a lot, I know, but it’s all important. The whole experience has been foundational for them, and they are growing apart. It’s painful.

At first we see inside the relationship from one perspective, then the other. Each section takes on the rhythms of its narrator, creating a very different feel. Update: I read a couple of reviews that thought the men sounded alike. I couldn’t disagree more. I will say that both Benson and Mike speak like people in their 20s, and that this is a novel which reflects that style, but in no other way do they sound alike.

The first character we meet, Benson, doesn’t communicate much through words. A lot takes place with him between the lines. The second portion is told from Mike’s perspective, and his mind is rapid-fire. From these two centers we see each world, intertwined with the other.

Both Benson and Mike have a loaded relationship with their fathers, and the three dynamics reflect and refract one another to expose details for the reader to interpret. I like being given that trust. What flashed before me was where everything began, with each man looking at his past to understand and heal his future.

Other relationships matter, too, and profound, quiet emotions roil beneath a humorous situation: Mike flies to Japan just as his mom arrives in Houston to sleep on his couch in the 1-bedroom apartment he and Benson share. Their jobs matter, too, and help complete the picture, along with a sense of Houston, and how it’s changed over the years. It is through all relationships, even the ones to place and occupation, that they learn to know themselves, and we them.

The self-discovery these men go through by probing their deepest connections, and how these connections play off one another, made this a favorite read for me. Plus, I took a poll of 5 friends IRL, and all thought this was better than Lot. I will still read that one, however, along with everything else Bryan Washington writes.
August 27, 2021
| | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | |

“It's like we're in some fucked-up rom-com, I said. It's like we're both fucked-up rom-com villains.”

Maybe it's my fault for I 'hyping' myself too much but I found Memorial to be a wee bit disappointing. First of all, the lack of quotations marks. So many authors are using this technique that it seems passé. And what does this stylistic choice accomplish? If we really wanted to write as 'realistically' as possible we wouldn't bother with punctation marks (or with noting 'he/she said').

Set in Houston, Memorial follows a Benson and Mike who live together and are sort of dating. Mike, who is Japanese American, works as a chef at Mexican restaurant, while Benson, who is black, is a dare care teacher. The everyday challenges of cohabitation and their different attitudes towards monogamy, money, and work, result in a rather rocky relationship. Arguments give away to tense silences, and the two begins to question whether being together still make sense.
When Mike announces that he will be leaving America to reconnect with his dying father—who owns a bar in Tokyo—Benson isn't happy. Worst still, Mike's mother, Mitsuko, who has just flown to Houston, will be staying with Benson in their apartment.
Both Benson and Mike's narratives are interspersed with short snippets from their past. We gain a sort of impression of their family life, as well as reading of their previous sexual partners and of the early days in their relationship.
During this time apart Benson grows close to another man, and reconnects with his own father, an alcoholic who isn't too enthused by his son's sexual orientation. Mitsuko begins to teach him how to cook, and while the two don't get on particularly well, they get used to each other.
Mike instead struggles to get along with his father. He begins to work alongside him in his bar, and while he doesn't seem particularly keen on the job or the clientele, he sort of adjusts to his new environment.
I didn't particularly care for Benson nor Mike. They share the same kind of nondescript personality (they are the type of people who shrug a lot). Their voices were almost interchangeable, which didn't really benefit their characterisation. The sex scenes were either predictably awkward, perfunctory, or frantic. I guess Washington wanted to depict realistic sex, but he almost goes overboard, so that his sex scenes verge on the ridiculous (I mean: "grunting like otters against a dingy, dented stall"). To be fair, however, there was once instance that made me chuckle: "We fucked. It sucked."
The dialogue was okay, sort of mumblecore-esque. The secondary characters felt kind of flat. They both have separated parents, with 'broken/brusque' fathers and 'sardonic/direct' mothers. Mike's whole section with his father felt very schmalzy (not that I don't care for dying-father/son stories in which the two reconnect, I loved Medicine Walk).
Sadly, I found this underwhelming. This is the kind of novel that tries too hard to be a 'real' and 'unfiltered' story about modern love...but I don't know. The characters spend a lot of the time watching dots on their screen, which, yeah, it's kind of relatable but it soon gets repetitive. The story does incorporate discussions about race, class, and sexuality, but I can't say that these issues were explored with any particular depth.
Just because Washington style didn't work for me doesn't mean that I thought that Memorial was a bad novel. If you enjoyed Exciting Times you might actually find this to be a highly satisfying read.
Profile Image for Brandice.
824 reviews
March 25, 2021
In Memorial, Mike and Benson are dating and living together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef, Benson a Black childcare worker. While they hit it off in the past, they currently feel indifferent toward one another. Mike’s mother Mitsuko arrives from Japan for a visit just as Mike decides he’s heading there to visit his ailing father, leaving Mitsuko to stay with Benson, who she has never met before.

Memorial follows the couple while they’re apart during Mike’s trip, each considering what he wants, trying to navigate a path forward, with flashbacks recounting their relationship from its beginning, and their own families/ upbringings.

I really struggle with books written in a piece-y or stream of consciousness style. Even when the premise sounds interesting or I’m made aware of this style in advance, I’ve trudged on, hoping “this time” the book would be different. And I’ve usually been letdown, rarely enjoying it and just aiming to finish the book. Memorial is written in this style, though not to the same extent as many others, but I’m pleased to say I did enjoy this story overall.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,586 reviews1,984 followers
January 14, 2022
One reason I read less so-called "literary fiction" these days is that so much of it feels the same. The same characters in the same places doing the same things. But with MEMORIAL everything is refreshingly different, it is the rare literary novel where I felt like I recognized the places and people I saw. I didn't read any of the jacket copy, but I assumed from the cover and title that this would be a real downer. It isn't, though it's not a happy book either, but the sadness was balanced enough for me not to feel like I was reading something bleak. (Even though, honestly, if you look at the overarching plot, it's pretty bleak.)

Mike and Benson live together, but their relationship has been on the rocks for a while. Instead of addressing it, there is an unusual set of events. Mike finds out his estranged father is dying back in Japan. He then invites his mother to come to Houston from Japan to stay with him. And then immediately leaves to care for his father, leaving Benson and Mike's mother Mistuko to share the one-bedroom apartment for an undetermined period of time. During this time we see both Benson and Mike's point of view, as they work through the present and think about the past. Neither seems to be sure if they want to stay in the relationship, but neither seems to be able to summon the energy to end it, either. They are thrust from one kind of limbo into another.

As a queer novel, I was very pleased with it. It is not a book of Queer Suffering, though both Mike and Benson's sexuality has had negative impacts on their relationships with their parents. Benson's kicked him out in his youth, and now they like to pretend that never happened. While Mike and his mother's relationship is less rocky, his romantic life is mostly out of bounds. Benson is HIV-positive, which the book treats with the same casualness that many gay men today would. Benson works with kids and no one cares. (I am trying to remember if I've ever seen a man working in childcare in a novel before, even though I have seen many of them in real life.) Mike and Benson's attitude towards cheating is low-key, and their relationship is maybe kind of open sort of. Sex is described in some detail, and sometimes it is sexy and sometimes it isn't at all. It all feels very accurate and true to life, it is not concerned with trying to make grand pronouncements about the gay experience, which is exactly why it is so good about portraying gay life.

For me this was a little under 4 stars because of my personal preference: I always struggle with books where the prose is broken up into very small pieces. While they can combine to give you a full picture, the stop and start of it can be hard for me to feel like I am getting into a sustained rhythm.

I give extra points to any book with a strong sense of place that is NOT New York City, to be honest, and I loved the way Washington writes about Houston. I lived in the Houston area for a while, not long enough to be able to recognize all of Washington's landmarks, but definitely enough to recognize how well he portrays what a diverse place it is, changing from neighborhood to neighborhood, dividing on race, class, and any number of other measures. There are hardly any white people in this book and it is better off for it.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,106 followers
February 14, 2021
Bryan Washington’s debut outing, Memorial, looks at relationships in some of their most awkard and uncomfortable phases. Mike and Benson’s four-years together is at the point of inertia as the novel opens, when Mike abruptly takes off for Japan to be with his dying father. Meanwhile Benson finds himself roomies with Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, who he has only just clapped eyes on for the first time. A quiet, observant literary novel ensues.

There were parts of Memorial that I found really engaging—in particular, the two respective cross-generational pairings: Mike’s attempt to reconnect with his father, Eiju; Benson’s ‘odd-couple’ life with cranky Mitsuko. In fact, Washington writes the older generation very well and any scenes involving Eiju or Mitsuko garnered my full attention.

Unfortunately, Mike and Benson must jump through several other formulaic, literary-fiction hoops: ‘will-they-or-won’t-they (break up)’ and ‘seeing someone new behind my boyfriend’s back’ etc. These are tired tropes that can nevertheless still work if given fresh perspective or nuanced characters or brilliant prose—but lacking such authorial polish they will fall flat as they do here.

The prose is frustrating in that it is packed with details, yet remains imprecise and vague. This is Mitsuko:
My mother only ever wore the nicest dresses, the nicest shoes, with jewelry on her neck, hanging across both wrists. An ankle.
Ah, yes. Can’t you just picture her? How about this tidbit about Benson’s sister:
Her place is stuffed with plants. The floors are a sheened wood.
Uh huh. This kind of writing just feels lifeless to me.

While overall Memorial didn’t exactly float my boat, it did have its moments. And if Bryan Washington ever decides to write a spinoff all about Mitsuko, I’d read that. 2 stars.
Profile Image for Darryl Suite.
481 reviews351 followers
November 24, 2020
Nope. The story was fine, but the execution was incredibly lackluster. Monotone dialogue, flat prose, and tedious characterizations. I thought this was flavorless. I'm confused by all the praise. I won't remember any of this by next month. I prefer Washington's short stories. 
Profile Image for Emily B.
424 reviews417 followers
July 26, 2021
I liked this from the beginning. I’m not sure what the word for it is, maybe gritty? Definitely depressing at times but honest and beautiful in a broken kind of way.
It definitely made me feel.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,481 reviews29.4k followers
January 14, 2022
3.5 stars.

Bryan Washington's new novel, Memorial , is an intriguing look at relationships and the things we don’t say to those we care about.

“...loving a person means letting them change when they need to. And that doesn’t make them any less of a home. Just maybe not one for you. Or only for a season or two. But that doesn’t diminish the love. It just changes forms.”

Benson and Mike have been together for a few years. When things work, they’re good together, but it seems lately those moments have been fewer and farther between. But neither wants to start a conversation about what they want from each other.

Mike’s mother Mitsuko arrives from Japan, and at the same time he learns his estranged father is dying in Osaka. He decides he needs to go to Japan to be with his father, so he leaves his mother with Benson, despite the fact the two have never met before.

As Benson and Mitsuko try to negotiate the strange arrangement they’ve been left with, Mike begins to better understand his father and their relationship, and see how his memories differ from reality. At the same time, both Benson and Mike think about their relationship and its potential longevity, or what they might want from the future.

Bryan Washington is such a talented storyteller and I love the way he writes. There is definitely some beauty and emotion in this book. That being said, I kept waiting for a big revelation or moment in the story, and it never quite happened.

I felt like so much of the interactions between the characters were shaped by the things they didn’t say, and that was frustrating at times. It was almost like we were viewing Benson and Mike’s relationship through a window, and everything wasn’t quite clear.

This is one of those books that will resonate more for some than others, and it probably would benefit from some discussion. Still, reading Washington’s work is a real privilege.

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,040 followers
January 14, 2022
I love a literary relationship novel full of nuance and Memorial is just that - Benson and Mike have been together a few years but it has started to stagnate. Then Mike's mother comes to stay just as he is leaving for Osaka to be with his father who is dying. The story is told first from Benson's perspective as he works his low-wage preschool type job (which he is impressively good at) and deals with Mitsuko in their small apartment; the story shifts to Mike in Osaka. Their backstory fills in along the way. I like how much of the internal narrative we are given, the placeness of both settings (Houston's Third Ward and Osaka), and the feeling of a relationship hanging in the balance.

This came out October 6th and I had a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews966 followers
January 12, 2021
paints a nuanced portrait of a strained relationship between two queer men of color, Ben, a Black, poz daycare teacher, and Mike, a Japanese-American chef. after four years of dating, the couple’s love has frayed and nears its end: they fight often, suspect each other of cheating, and avoid being together. but when Mike sets out for Osaka to reconnect with his estranged, terminally ill Japanese father, just as his (divorced) mother arrives to the couple’s Houston apartment for a visit, the men are given the chance to spend time apart and reflect on what they want in life and from each other. as many have pointed out, the side characters aren’t strong and Mike and Ben sound similar, problems likely stemming from Washington’s background in story writing; he’s still written something refreshing and well worth reading here. his prose is smooth, understated, and often moving, and he subtly captures how patterns of bad communication and dysfunctional behavior are passed across generations.
Profile Image for Dwayne.
118 reviews114 followers
November 30, 2022
I don't know why Washington's short story collection Lot didn't really connect with me, (maybe I need to read it again) but this? This I loved.
Mike is a Japanese-American chef. His partner, Benson, is a Black daycare teacher. When Mike leaves Houston to visit his sick father in Osaka, his mother comes to live with Benson. What follows is more slice of life than actual plot, with the book divided into sections that follow Mike and Benson separately.
Yes, the writing style is similar to Lot, but in focusing on two characters, Washington's novel is more successful in its portrayal of sadness and ennui. It's a love story where its characters aren't exactly sure they're in love. They aren't even sure if they like themselves. It's at times explicit, but also profound; funny, but also deeply deeply sad. Kinda like it is being queer.
The writing is spare but also effective with sentences cutting straight to the point. It's a novel that moves backward and forward in time; a novel about family (the ones we're born into and the ones that we choose for ourselves) that feels messy and real and important.
Profile Image for elisa.
187 reviews1,176 followers
July 22, 2021
memorial by bryan washington is simple and straight-forward in construction; it’s told entirely through bite-sized vignettes that are all character interaction, no character introspection. in this way, washington has attempted to build castles—decaying though they are—out of conversations, as readers follow benson and mike through a lull in their relationship that tugs mike in the direction of osaka, japan, to care for his dying father, and keeps benson rooted to his spot in houston, texas, where he’s been sequestered away with mike’s acerbic mother.

i haven’t read any salley rooney, but from what i understand (and have been told about her), there are parallels to be probed here. namely, the lack of quotation marks and the plot-less meandering rooney and washington both seem to favor.

there are two (2) central comparisons i want to draw, though, that i think underscore what i liked and what i disliked about this novel. i would say memorial is a little like following a friend’s private vent twitter, or reading an hbo limited series script.

it’s like a vent twitter in that you are privy to nonstop, unfiltered anguish, which is its own kind of art project. scrolling through small snapshots of a friend’s suffering online—that particular earnestness, or even performativity, that economical storytelling, all those miniature constraints as you move backwards and forwards through time, immortalized or memorialized forever, if you will—can be a harrowing experience. it can inspire a sort of helplessness in you as a reader—that voyeur-like, ghostly participation in someone else’s life. you’re forced to watch that anguish unfold without leaving any footprints yourself. it’s also almost implicitly unreliable narration. you know this when you’re accepted into that vent account. you’re not tuning in to hear the highlights from your friend’s daily life; that’s what instagram is for. you’re tuning in to see the raw, squirming mass that is someone else’s private pain, the intimate stuff they’ve curated—or unleashed—for a select following, either in search of validation or reprieve.

memorial is similarly hard to look away from. and yet, after a point, the lack of relief from all that pain and suffering (and awkwardness...achingly human awkwardness) makes the story hard to swallow. it’s like undiluted real life:

I still hadn’t learned that there is a finite number of people who will ever be interested in you.

now, memorial is like an hbo script in that the plot is largely being constructed from conversations with other characters—frail legs to stand on without the right kind of expertise. the novel is not ornately written, which heightens the sense of hyperreality that permeates the narrative throughout. i liken washington’s work to a script writer’s because, to produce a strong script, you have to have a visualizing capacity that transcends description. you need to be able to color with conversation, and in this novel, the palette is always expanding.

this is both a strength and a shortcoming.

one thing i commend is washington's ability to populate his world with such sparse description, so that every scene bursts to life, purely because his people-observing abilities are so potent and so present:

The block’s quiet, for once, and the mosquitoes are out, and the woman swats her elbows from time to time, wiping her mouth with the crook of her arm.

i loved the constant interludes where we spent a fleeting moment with a background character simply inhabiting physical time and space, hearing corridos filter through walls, watching kids kick a ball back and forth, or an old couple sit on their porch. i didn't doubt for a moment that this story could be real, this storytelling technique was that effective.

the character building that occurs feels particularly lifelike because of it—almost to a fault—but it also means that, without any introspection or interiority, the central characters always exist at a distance. readers must sit through a conversation, receive no narrative reaction to it, and then draw their own conclusions about what it means. what the character’s truly feel at any given moment is always uncertain, if not outright avoided. for that reason, there’s a kind of interpretive quality to the narrative. and that ingrained ambiguity frustrated me to no end.

this is an incredibly existential book. it’s concerned with the human condition, human relationships, and human suffering. it almost never gives you a straight answer, instead choosing to skirt around assumed meanings.

for the first 90 or so pages, this was exhilarating. i enjoyed a lot of benson’s uncertainty, because it felt like it was propelling him in a more decisive direction. then we shifted to mike’s point of view, and i realized that the ambiguity would only continue to grow. where before the tweet-like quality of the vignettes felt illuminating, it began to stifle. too often characters fall back on probably and i don’t know when faced with difficult—or even easy!—questions.

for some readers, this might be refreshing. to me, the narrative started to feel nebulous, and vague, like the characters were passive actors in their own lives, with no true feelings about much of anything happening to them.

the pithy little exchanges that previously provided fascinating glimpses into benson’s relationship with his family became redundant during mike's half. i started to notice that almost every interaction—regardless of participants—carried that same scathing, acerbic quality, so that every character interaction seemed synonymous. sometimes voices ran together, indistinguishable from one another due to repeated verbal nuances. the second half of the narrative began to drag, and after recently reading michelle zauner’s crying in h mart, rich with painstaking detail, mike’s dying father and his disease felt lackluster by comparison. ultimately, the barren quality of the prose detracted from the second half of the story rather than strengthening it.

more than that, though, i feel like choosing to go the vent twitter route made mike and benson’s relationship unconvincing. at no point—even during retrospective rumination on their getting together or romantic highs—did i feel like they had chemistry. i didn’t feel like they particularly wanted to be together. i didn’t feel like there was ever any kind of passion. which is another point in the hyperreality category, though i still don’t know what to make of it from a book.

it’s why i think this concept would work much better as a script for tv or film. in novel form, being bombarded with all these unanswerable questions, these incredibly life-like portraits of awkward, failing relationships...it’s slightly overwhelming, especially because we know so little of either lead’s interior mind. in a visual format, i think that ambiguity would work seamlessly, even bolster the story being told, and also allow for a lot of creative interpretation on the part of a pair of actors.

so imagine my surprise—and delight!—when i learned that memorial’s rights were purchased by a24 for a tv adaptation. yes, i will be impatiently awaiting updates. yes, i will be tuning in. i think this kind of story—featuring an uncertain, nonwhite gay couple, one of whom is fat, the other hiv positive—is essential, especially when it comes to the m/m narratives that blow up on goodreads.

washington’s voice is its own kind of expert, albeit in ways ill-suited to me + this format. i will definitely be reading his short story collection, because i foresee that working a lot better for me than his long-form fiction did. and i wish i could have spent more time with benson, his family, his budding romance with omar—all of his close friends, even, and little ahmad, all of whom i fell in love with. his story was far more compelling to me than mike’s. had we spent more time with him, i think my rating might have been a 4/5.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,473 reviews2,307 followers
October 8, 2021
German Edition: Dinge, an die wir nicht glauben (why change the title when the original is so much better?)

After his much acclaimed short story collection, Lot: Stories, which encompassed narratives about the lives of marginalized people in Houston, Bryan Washington has now published his debut novel - and it's also his first work to be translated into German. Fans of the text include Tommy Orange, Ocean Vuong and Katie Kitamura. Also set in Houston, our protagonists are a queer couple of color on the verge of breaking up: Benson is an African-American day care teacher and HIV-positive, his partner Mike is a cook in a Mexican restaurant whose parents have already returned to their native Japan. Both live in the Third Ward, a diverse, historically Black neighborhood caught in the process of gentrification. So in case it shouldn't be clear already: Diversity, sexuality, racism and class are core topics in the novel, but not because they are the focus of the plot, but because these issue are just a reality for the characters.

Right when Mike's mother Mitsuko visits the couple, Mike decides to leave for Osaka where his father, Mitsuko's ex-husband, is about to die from cancer. Benson and Mitsuko stay in the States and struggle to deal with their new situation, just as Mike aims to reconnect with his estranged father. Benson's family is in tumoil as well: His alcoholic father is caught in a rapid downward spiral, Benson's mother, who has moved on and married upwards, employs him to help his dad. Both Mike and Benson have strained relationships with their families because they encountered homophobia and discrimination.

Now all of this sounds like a whole lot is going on, but as the text is mimicking spoken language (is "secondary orality" an expression that's also used in English?) and clearly structured, it's easy to follow the events. The novel is split in three sections, the first and third one are narrated by Benson, the middle section is narrated by Mike - so Washington is adding up the two sides of the story. Will they make it or break up?

The author himself hails from Texas, he grew up in Katy (which features in the book) and attended the University of Houston as well as the University of New Orleans - and to him, New Orleans is comparable to Osaka, a city he explored when visiting a friend who had moved to Japan. Washington became enarmored with the country (he even owns a Shiba Inu), and "Memorial" has a strong focus on how diverse communities in Houston and Osaka are made up, interact, and support each other. Consequently, we also learn a lot about co-workers, neighbors, clients etc., thus the people who populate the everyday lives of the main characters. And there's another of the author's interests that made it into the book: Cooking and food play an important role, both as a cultural practice as well as an expression of care and a source of nourishment.

All in all, a wonderful book full of crisp sentences and sharp observations - maybe not the height of lyrical ingenuity or the most challenging plot ever crafted, but when it comes to accessible narration about diversity, this is pretty good stuff. I'm curious to see the TV adaptation. And oh: Kudos to the German translators, as the English original contains 301 (!) mentions of the word "fuck" and versions of it ("fuckers", "fucking", you get the idea), which cries for creative solutions.
Profile Image for Ari Levine.
185 reviews140 followers
January 14, 2022
Sometimes it feels like I've read an entirely different novel than everyone else did. Washington's plain prose could be charitably described as utilitarian, but its flatness and humorlessness quickly became monotonous. And all the endless mentions of street, neighborhood, and freeway names don't produce an immersive sense of a lived-in urban environment in either Houston-- or especially-- Osaka. His characters are almost entirely lacking in self-awareness, revealing themselves almost entirely through inarticulate, monosyllabic dialogue and cooking elaborate meals, but their voices are virtually indistinguishable (even the middle-aged Black and Japanese parents). The dysfunctional relationships and emotionally-damaged characters didn't elicit empathy, only tedium.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,111 reviews8,040 followers
November 24, 2021
A moving, intimate portrait of a relationship on the precipice of failure.

When Mike discovers his estranged father in Japan is dying just as Mike's mother is arriving in Houston to visit, he leaves her with his live-in boyfriend, Benson. Though the two have never met, Benson and Mike's mother share the house and begin to form a pattern of their days together. Meanwhile, Mike is developing his own routine and grappling with his father's health struggles and the childhood abandonment he has yet to fully deal with as an adult.

Washington is a skilled character developer. While I was not the biggest fan of the writing style at the beginning, it definitely worked for the story and to make these characters come alive. I sped through this because I wanted to learn more about the characters, see how they would act and react, and discover what their fates held. At the same time that I was enjoying their story, I was deeply frustrated with but sympathetic to their plights. The way Washington unpacks family history, the way our childhoods shape our adults, how we can choose to lead or be led by those around us, and what it takes to build a life that may look wholly different than the one you anticipated—all of these things were themes that built on themselves and expanded as the story went on. By the end, the whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

This book crept up on my. In the first third or so, I was interested but not sure my exact feelings. And honestly, having just finished it I don't feel that I can adequately explain why I enjoyed this book. But ultimately it took us inside the lives of two people struggling to move forward, being pulled back by their pasts, and learning to overcome their own issues to better help the other. Though it may not be neat and tidy, life rarely is. And Washington captures that messiness in a way that felt so real.
Profile Image for Jordan (Jordy’s Book Club).
364 reviews16.5k followers
September 3, 2020
QUICK TAKE: this book is unbelievable. A complicated, complex story of relationships that absolutely blew me away. I loved the alternating POV between Benson and Mike and thought Washington did an excellent job writing beautiful, funny, heartbreaking characters. The story is small and intimate, and I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Doug.
1,935 reviews670 followers
December 12, 2020
3.5, rounded up.

I was impressed by Washington's first book, the short story collection Lot: Stories, but had difficulty relating to his characters and their hardscrabble milieu. I fared much better with this novel, which seemed both tighter and more focused. I am still a bit bewildered it has made so many year-end 'best of' lists, since even though I found the story involving, the prose is fairly low-key, and it lacks the powerful emotional pull of something like Shuggie Bain, which inexplicably did NOT make many of the lists this occupies a place on.

Still, there are very few books that capture inter-racial gay relationships. especially with Asian and Black protagonists, so it certainly gets points for that. I found the first and third sections, narrated by Benson and taking place in Houston, much more successful than those in the second section, presented from Mike's POV and taking place largely in Osaka, but ultimately the story comes together with a satisfying conclusion.
Profile Image for Claire Reads Books.
136 reviews1,372 followers
January 14, 2022
A bit of a disappointment after Bryan Washington’s truly excellent short story collection, Lot. If you’ve read Lot, the writing here will likely feel less revelatory than it did the first time around, and while there are quiet, sparkling moments in Memorial that reminded me of the brilliance of Washington’s short fiction, here they’re held together by a much baggier narrative. Benson feels like a character straight out of Lot, which makes you wonder why Washington needed 150+ pages to tell his half of the story (especially when the character placed opposite him, Mitsuko, is so underutilized). Mike’s half of the novel, in contrast, feels like more of a departure for Washington, not just because of the Japanese setting but also because of the more fully-realized longform storytelling. Still, Ben and Mike’s narrative voices have a tendency to blur together (all the characters in the book, actually, sound a bit too similar, even the ones who are supposed to be speaking Japanese), and as a result, the few scenes that find them together in the same room feel somewhat flat. Also, they need to break up!

3.5 ⭐️ (4 ⭐️ for Mike’s half, 3 ⭐️ for Ben’s, and 3.5 ⭐️ overall for the at times poignant depictions of grief and a relationship in what I hope are its last gasps!)
Profile Image for Dennis.
746 reviews1,428 followers
January 14, 2022
My first read by Bryan Washington has been a complete success. Memorial is a satirical contemporary romance story focusing on two men—Benson and Mike. While dealing with family dynamics and dialogue about race, Benson and Mike venture on a quite complicated relationship. Mike's father is ill and he decides to forge a final relationship with him before it's too late. However, Mike's father is in Osaka, Japan and Mike's mother just arrived to their Houston apartment for an extended visit. While Mike is in Japan, Benson has to "play house" with Mike's mother.

Memorial is quite sexy at times with it's explicit depictions of sexuality, but at the same time shows the reality that many relationships go through—the feeling of feeling "stuck." Mike and Benson's relationship is shaky at best and it's very relatable. Bryan Washington's writing is very strong and savvy when it comes to dialogue as well. I didn't know whether to feel all the feelings at certain times, laugh at certain times, or hold back possible tears at times (yes, I know I'm dramatic). Memorial is definitely one of the better books that I've read this year.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,259 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.