Young Houstonians Mike and Benson think they might love each other. Actually, they're certain they do, but they've only said it a handful of times. As the bold but mystifying protagonists at the center of Bryan Washington's tender novel, Memorial, they're pretty good together: Mike is Japanese American and a chef, and Ben is Black and teaches at a day care center, and, well, they get by. That is, until a particularly gruesome fight leaves them fumbling, and Mike decides to leave the country.
He's not really disappearing on Ben--Mike's discovered that his estranged father, Eiju, is dying of cancer back in Japan, where his family emigrated from years ago. Just as his mother, Mitsuko, touches down in Houston, Mike hops on an international flight, leaving Ben to handle Mike's enigmatic mother alone. Floundering and frustrated in Mike's absence, Ben begins to explore what a life apart from his boyfriend might look like--and ask himself if that's something he might want. As Mike develops an astounding, heart-wrenching relationship with the dying father he never expected to see again, Ben struggles with his own messed-up family, in particular his alcoholic father. Thousands of miles apart but united in common experience, Mike and Ben work their way together again, slowly and painfully but truthfully.
Washington's characters are not always easy to understand, nor are they the cute and cuddly fodder of some romance novels. They are prickly and deeply flawed, hurting each other and themselves repeatedly before taking tiny steps toward progress. Yet they are so tenderly wrought they feel very real and, for that reason alone, Washington's wrenching tale of love and loss should not be missed. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer