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  • Writer's pictureNia Forrester

'Memorial' by Bryan Washington

What a beautiful book. Bryan Washington is one of those authors who manage to convey emotion with and between words, and in a way that transcends language. It almost feels like a little bit of magic.

Mike and Ben have been together for four years, and are at a turning point in their relationship: stay, or go? The decision is imminent when Mike suddenly announces that he must leave for Japan to visit his dying father, the same father who has been already virtually dead to him all these years, because of his abandonment of Mike and his mother fifteen years earlier. Oh, and by the way? Mike's mother whom Ben has never met is coming to stay while Mike is away, and she will be there indefinitely. During their separation, while Mike is attending to his father (and his father's business) in his final weeks of life, Ben is back in Texas, doing a little relationship archaeology, digging up and dissecting memories of how he and Mike first got together, and how they began to break apart.

As Ben is doing this, he is also getting to know Mitsuko, Mike's somewhat irascible mother, and reacquainting himself with his own family--his chronic alcoholic father, and the mother who left him and his sister, Lydia to start a new life and new family not too far away. As Mike is coming to terms with his father in Osaka, Ben is coming to terms with his, and with himself; and slowly, through various flashes back and forth in time, the reader learns that Ben (who is Black) and Mike (who is Japanese) are more similar than they appear, and than they believe themselves to be -- both are children of alcoholic parents, fearful of abandonment and uncomfortable with attachment. They have stayed together in large part by telling themselves (and each other) that they've already come to terms with the likelihood that the other will leave.

This book broke and healed my heart. It showed two people who loved tentatively, imperfectly, fearfully ... and the roots of that tentative, imperfect and fearful love -- their families. It showed how bonds form, no matter how careful we sometimes are to avoid them. Bryan Washington is an extraordinary writer. I'm excited to read more of his work. Recommended for lovers of literary fiction.

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