There’s a famous quote from Emily Dickinson that I come back to often: “I wonder – it’s not precisely knowing / And not precisely not knowing – / A beautiful but dark condition / He didn’t live that did not feel -.
I think that’s the best way to start describing Memorial, Bryan Washington’s sequel to his first short story collection, Lot. Memorial, is at the base, a love story, but it is so much more: it is about intermediate spaces of love and not to love, of knowing and not knowing, of learning to be and how to agree with fair being. Despite the issues the book faces, the writing is funny – joyful even – and yet at times it’s also devastating, weaving descriptions of food to paint the silences shared between the characters a different shade.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Bryan Washington about Memorial, and along the way, he recommended five pounds.
Daniel Modlin: What theme did you land on?
Bryan Washington: I wanted to recommend five books to be OK. I really admire when people are able to pull that amorphous out of a book without being reductive or prescriptive or forcing a really clear ending when you don’t need it.
DM: I think Memorial does that very well. This idea of “not knowing” runs through all the tensions in Mike and Benson’s life. There’s this tension throughout the book where all the characters are on the fringes of relationships – maybe it’s like being on the precipice and being okay with that.
BW: I did not want Memorial being held hostage by the capital letter Moments that unfold in a relationship, when so many of these characters’ relationships are defined by silences and missed connections and what is lost in translation.
One book that I really admire for this is that of Helen Oyeymi gingerbread. It is about finding home and finding out what or who a person is when they are between two contexts. So we’re looking for the context they’re most comfortable in and she does that by weaving fantastic elements with real elements in a way that isn’t forced or heavy. The world we get is unique, the one you want to stay in.
DM: It’s really similar to the middle world that Mike and Benson exist in. I’m interested, you know, I guess you wrote Memorial above all ~ this ~ and so I would like to know more about the desirability of a book that aims to not know, in a time when we know nothing.
BW: It’s really weird to see some kind of relevance emerge when it wasn’t intended at all.
The next book is Pizza girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier. She’s super bright – the protagonist’s voice is so good and she negotiates so much – her sexuality, her race, her financial situation – during the course of the book and it doesn’t really draw easy conclusions, but it feels like every moment is won and inevitable. This is the one I recommend when someone asks me what to read next.
DM: Your characters, Benson and Mike, negotiate so much, and they do it all over the world.
BW: What was really important to me about the writing Memorial It was that I didn’t want people to walk away from the book thinking that this relationship wasn’t working because Mike either screwed up or liked a collaboration of the two. I just wanted it to be people on the page, working on it, finding out. It took a lot of editorial staff that didn’t show up on the page to see not only who they were but also who they wanted to be, and see if they could.
The next book is Transcendent realm by Yaa Gyasi. It’s another who takes a lot of chances, but everyone feels won. And I think the biggest risk it takes is that it asserts that joy is something that can be found, even if it’s a long journey, even if it’s not a clear path. I think there is a lot of contemporary American literary fiction that considers the idea of joy to be cliché. And I think the way Gyassi works around that, and it’s not clear, it’s not clean, but she’s able to find some humor in the trip – it was just a really remarkable boot. to read.
DM: You talk a lot about how the arc to find happiness and joy is not linear and I think the structure of Memorial was unique and interesting, can you tell me about your decision making there?
BW: I was really keen to allow her some leeway, and I knew that even though there was a certain emotional pocket I wanted to reach towards, I had no idea what it would actually look like on the page. So, to establish the stable by the line of the will which they do not want, was necessary. And while the book suggests that you don’t really need to find the answers to these questions, that’s what drives him in so many ways as well.
DM: I found it interesting that in a way it’s a love story and yet it puts two people, lovers, on either side of the planet and they really don’t occupy the same. page space.
BW: Allowing characters to exist in different spaces geographically has helped me explore them individually and not so much as a unit. So when they come back together, the reader, the audience, has a pretty good idea of who they are individually and how they see the relationship respectively.
A truly structurally adventurous book is There must be a knife. It explores the ways a man tries to understand issues of identity and who he is in a certain context, this time in Toronto, and the ways in which those contexts can play out on your own personal arc, even if you avoid yourself. . From this.
DM: OK, so what’s the last book?
BW: The last book I would like to recommend is the book I give away the most and keep coming back to. It’s called Home remedies and is a collection of short stories. Each story is a world in itself. In the stories there are characters looking for something – be it their community, their romantic relationships, their stability, a sense of identity – and that really extrapolates the structures that each of the characters live in. Some of the stories may seem fractured, but everything is so meticulously thought out. Each of their bows and travels are role models and you know that sounds really real and rewarding.
DM: So I read that Benson and Mike started out as a short story. And I’m curious, you know, why them? Why not something Lot? Why these characters?
BW: I think so because I didn’t know where they would end up.
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