Monday, July 1, 2019

Book Review: "Lot" by Bryan Washington

"It didn't take long to see that there's the world you live in, and then there are the constellations around it, and you'll never know you're missing them if you don't even know to look up."

Lot, Bryan Washington's new story collection, is raw, potent, and packs a powerful, emotional punch.

Taking place in Houston before and after Hurricane Harvey, many of the stories focus on one young man, the son of an erstwhile Latino father and a black mother, as he grows into adulthood, confronts the prejudice and the social and economic realities of the community he lives in, this community of immigrants.

At the same time, he comes to terms with his sexuality, although he never views his encounters with other boys and men as anything more than physical.

There are stories exploring the complicated relationships in broken families, the expectations of masculinity, the treatment of women as often little more than sexual objects and maids, and the menial and dangerous jobs boys and men living in these neighborhoods turn to. Washington's stories explore what makes a community, what makes a family, what makes a life.

Washington's stories aren't quite happy. Even those that appear to have a more positive spin have a tinge of sadness or elements of disaster or trouble just around the corner. But many of the stories work despite their tone because of Washington's tremendous writing ability—his use of language, his talent with imagery which conjures images of setting and character in your head.

While I didn't love all of the stories, some really stuck with me, including: "Alief," in which a community reveals a neighbor's affair to her husband but is unprepared for the destruction that might cause; "610 North, 610 West," where a son is brought face-to-face with his father's infidelity; "Shepherd," which tells of how the visit of a cousin from Jamaica causes chaos among family members; "South Congress," about an interesting relationship between a local drug dealer and a teenager who barely speaks English; and my favorite story, "Waugh," about a group of young hustlers.

I'm a big fan of short stories, although I've not read many collections this year. I was definitely struck by the power and poignancy of Washington's voice, and I think Lot hints at the amazing career ahead of him.

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