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A SUNDAY TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
'This feels like a vision for the 21st-century novel... It made me happy'
Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Benson and Mike are two young guys who have 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 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, while 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...
Funny and profound, Memorial is about family in all its strange forms, becoming who you're supposed to be and the outer limits of love.
NAMED A BOOK TO WATCH IN 2021 BY:
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In Washington's debut novel (after the collection Lot), the fractures in a couple's relationship span from Houston, Tex., to Osaka, Japan. Ben, a day care teacher, lives with his cook boyfriend, Mike, in Houston's slowly gentrifying Third Ward. When Mike's mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Houston from Japan with plans to stay at Ben and Mike's place, awkwardness ensues. Mike has just left for Osaka, to reconnect with his absent and now terminally ill father, and put Ben in charge of entertaining Mitsuko until he gets back. Ben eventually adjusts to having her around, just as he must navigate his changing relationship with his black middle-class family, who have always shied away from Ben's HIV-positive status and talked around his father's drinking. Meanwhile, in Osaka, Mike has found his father, Eiju, at the bar he owns, where Eiju has a dedicated assistant and crowd of regulars who have no idea Eiju's dying or that he has a son. Mike starts working at the bar so he can spend Eiju's final days with him. Though Mike still grapples with how to feel about Eiju, who made his biggest impact on Mike's life by abandoning the family, father and son are able to build a tentative relationship. Tender, funny, and heartbreaking, this tale of family, food (Mike cooks for their Venezuelan neighbors; Mitsuko makes Ben congee), and growing apart feels intimate and expansive at the same time. Washington shows readers more of the unforgettable Houston he introduced in his stories, and comfortably expands his range into the setting of Osaka, applying nuance in equal measure to his characters and the places they're tied to.