I am a firm believer in second chances. Sometimes a book is not for you because of the place you are in as a reader or your own bias. But all authors deserve to be read again, and their stories must be told.
Though not a fan of Bryan Washington’s “Lot”, in that spirit I picked up his newest novel “Memorial”, coming out on October 6th, 2020 by Riverhead Books. I was taken by the maturity as a storyteller that is evident from “Lot” to “Memorial”, his humor and how accurately he portrays domesticity in relationships; the struggles to make a relationship work and how love is not always so clear-cut. This is a perfect novel to be dissected, analysed and discussed by book clubs; there is so much food for thought, so many issues to be discussed from race, multiculturalism, identity, love, marriage, commitment. Mike and Benson try to figure out their relationship, their bond to each other, as they discover who they are and who they want to be; and their different ethnic and economical backgrounds, family histories, play a role in how the relate to one another and the outside world. The fact that the story is told intermittently from each of their point of view, shows the reader how in relationships there are gaps in communication, assumptions on how the other person feels or what he/she/they think, and so many things left unsaid that contribute to creating fractions. It is really a fascinating story about love and relationships and finding a way to make it all work. I cannot recommend it enough.
This review includes spoilers. I don’t usually mind them since I feel that they allow me to understand the book better from the start, but if you do, please do not read any further. A spoiler-free review has been posted to my Instagram page (@literaryinfatuation).
If I could sum up this short and captivating novel in one word I’d say: Resurrection. José, husband of Laura and father to a one year-old girl named Antonia, lives in a small town in Argentina. On arriving to work one morning, he discovers that the factory where we worked was burned to the ground. Consequently, his wife decides to go back to work early and takes a position as a proofreader at the same company, rather than her old job as editor. José, on the other hand, becomes a full-time dad and housekeeper. Laura works long hours, has a very long commute and feels very frustrated due to her demotion. Her spirits are down, and if you couple that with José’s own frustration at his new situation, marital problems are unavoidable. José is bored, frustrated and feeling utterly at loss, how will he fill in the long hours? He quickly devotes his whole energy and time to fixing things around the house and being the perfect dad, husband and housekeeper. He discovers that he is actually pretty good at it, even if Laura seems to mind everything he does or does not do. One day he even decides to start composting and growing vegetables in his garden and heads over to his next door neighbor to ask for a spade. What follows is a crazy journey, full of murder, obsession and paranoia. The novel takes this crazy twist pretty early on, and José’s narration full of frustration becomes even muddier. His marriage gets worse. He loses control of his life and starts losing faith on his dream to become a writer, which he had left long behind to be able to provide for his family. What we will discover along with José in his journey, is the resurrection of lives lost, resurrection of his marriage, and resurrection of his dreams.
If you are a fan of Tolstoy or Ernesto Sabato’s The Tunnel, I feel pretty confident that you’ll love this short novel, packing a lot of action and intrigue in less than 200 pages. If you love authors who “show rather than tell”, you’ll find this story right up your alley.
The only reason why it is a 4 star rather than a 5 star read for me has nothing to do with the author himself. Though I have not had a chance to get a hold of an original version in Spanish, I feel that the translator made sentences shorter to make the narration sound more similar to what it would have if it were written in English. That is not necessarily bad, but being that it is supposed to be the rambling of a very disturbed and confused person, it makes it feel at times unnatural. Plus, as a native speaker of Spanish, such short sentences do not seem possible or natural in the speech of an Argentinian, much less a very frustrated and upset one. I think that the translator should have given the reader a bit more credit. If the reader can figure out dialogues without any punctuation or spacing, then she/he can handle a few long sentences. Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough.