Memorial: A Novel by Bryan Washington

Memorial: A Novel is a story about two gay men, one Black, and one Japanese, in a struggling relationship. The story’s set in Houston and Japan, and both men take turns narrating the tale from their perspectives.

In Memorial, Bryan Washington deftly probes the challenges and hang-ups that early 21st century same-sex, male relationships sometimes experience. We came of age and came out when it was easier to be gay than before. Replicating traditional marriages and families is available to us if we want it. And yet we sometimes still suffer the damage of being raised by homophobic, prejudiced parents and society.

Memorial: A Novel is a truthful, at times heart-wrenching book. My one objection is how the characters speak to and treat each other. It’s harsh and blunt, which I struggled to identify with and understand. People in my life, especially those closest to me, don’t talk to each other as they do in Memorial.

And I felt at times as if the characters were one character, really. Each character’s speaking style and worldview not much different from another’s.

But Bryan Washington’s Memorial is an engaging, honest story. I enjoyed it, and recommend it.

You can get Memorial: A Novel by Bryan Washington through my Bidwell Hollow store on

My rating: 4/5

Memorable Quotes from Bryan Washington’s Memorial: A Novel

“The thing about a moving train is that, sometimes, you can catch it.”

“But the block has recently been invaded by fraternities from the college up the block. And a scattering of professor types. With pockets of rich kids playing at poverty. The Black folks who’ve lived here for decades let them do it, happy for the scientific fact that white kids keep the cops away.”

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

“Everybody’s somebody’s villain.”

“A nondecision is a choice in itself.”

“You’re all like your fathers.”

"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." - Memorial: A Novel by Bryan Washington

“It’s hard to head home without succumbing to nostalgia, standing where so many versions of yourself once stood.”

“Promises were only words, and words only meant what you made them.”

“Most ideas are good at the time. We don’t find out that they’ve gone wrong until they actually do.”

“We all change. We’ll all have plenty of homes in this life. It’s when you don’t that there’s an issue.”

“That 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.”

“Everyone thinks there’s more they can do, he said. The truth is that, sometimes, you’re already doing it.”

“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.”

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

“A society at once rigid and unstable can do nothing whatever to alleviate the poverty of its lowest members, cannot present to the hypothetical young man at the crucial moment that so-well-advertised right path.”

“In so far as I reacted at all, I reacted by trying to be pleasant—it being a great part of the American Negro’s education (long before he goes to school) that he must make people ‘like’ him.”

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

“Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious.”

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Memorial Book Cover Memorial
Bryan Washington
Riverhead Books

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.