We’ve all been there in our relationships: You know, that point when your boyfriend’s mother is coming for an extended visit from Japan to stay in your shared 1-bedroom apartment, and then the day after his mom arrives, your boyfriend decides to leave you and his mother while he flies to Japan to visit the dying father he hasn’t seen in decades? Well, that’s where Memorial, Bryan Washington’s new novel, begins.
This book is an examination of relationships, both the ones we want and the ones we never knew we needed.
In the first part we get to know Benson, the African American boyfriend who is left alone in Houston with a Japanese woman he’s never met. Because both Ben and Mitsuko care so much for the same man, Mike, their relationship is a complicated one. It begins with comparison and judgement then slowly evolves into one of understanding and acceptance. Through Benson’s eyes you begin to see a seemingly clear image of his imperfect relationship with Mike. However, just as you pass your judgements on Mike, the book swaps perspective.
In Japan, Mike is caring for the dying father who never accepted him, and he is forced to deal with his desire to know this unknown man he calls dad. All the while, Mike still has to deal with his relationship with Benson back in Houston. Told from Mike’s viewpoint, we learn so much more about this man we passed judgement on earlier, and we question our original assessments of Benson.
Mr. Washington’s new novel is heartbreaking in all the right ways. The book forces readers to consider all sides of our stories, and to realize the limits of our abilities to know another person. Relationships are complicated and, no matter how much we want to blame the other person, it’s ultimately up to us to learn more and accept who they are as our partner.