Criticism & Features

Year 2020: 30 Books

Memorial by Bryan Washington: 2020 Fiction Finalist

By Michael Schaub

Memorial by Bryan Washington (Riverhead)

When we first meet the young couple at the heart of Bryan Washington’s Memorial, Mike, a chef, has just told Benson, a daycare worker, that he’s leaving for an indefinite amount of time to visit his dying father in Japan. The twist: Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, is scheduled to visit her son in Houston at the same time. Benson suspects that Mike’s mom might not appreciate being ditched by her son and spending weeks in an apartment with a stranger. His suspicions are proved right.

Memorial shifts points of view between Benson and Mitsuko as they learn to live with each other in Texas, and Mike’s attempts to reconcile with his ailing father in Osaka. It’s an inventive structure that Washington executes beautifully; it allows him to follow the two young men as they try to make sense of their relationships with their families and with each other. There’s no character in the book that’s anything less than richly developed, and Washington depicts the partnership between Benson and Mike with both affection and clear-eyed realism.

Washington has a true ear for dialogue — the conversations between the characters, sometimes funny and sometimes not, are all rendered perfectly. Even more impressive is what Washington leaves out: the spaces between the dialogue speak volumes. It’s not an easy technique to pull off, but Washington does so perfectly.

Memorial is a stunning novel about what we owe to one another and to our communities, a triumphant book that explores what it means to love. It’s a masterpiece from a young writer who is at the beginning of what’s almost certainly a brilliant career.