“Heirlooms”
by Bryan Washington
from the August 3 & 10, 2020 issue of The New Yorker

The other day I saw that Bryan Washington’s debut novel, Memorial, was coming out this fall. I’m definitely interested. “Heirlooms” is, as Willing Davidson puts it in his interview with Washington, “adapted from” the novel. It seems that is meant to show that this is not just an excerpt but is rather a re-working of a larger thread in the novel. I’m anxious to check it out either way.

When “Heirlooms” begins, Ben is waking up early in the morning to the sound of Mitsuko mincing shrimp in the kitchen. Mitsuko is the mother of Mike, Ben’s boyfriend. Meanwhile, before Mitsuko arrived Mike flew to Japan to visit his dying father.

Clearly Ben is not comfortable with Mitsuko’s presence, and it doesn’t seem she is entirely comfortable with him:

Do you eat, she asks.

I tell her I do.

There are few if any other pleasantries involved before they sit down to eat the omelettes she’s made together. And then:

So, Mitsuko says, how long have you been sleeping with my son? Or is it casual?

Not really, I say.

I don’t know how it works, Mitsuko says.

I think it’s the same for everyone.

It isn’t, Mitsuko says.

She says, I’m sure you can tell that Michael and I are very close.

They continue to talk a bit, and we get little hints that maybe Ben’s relationship with Mike, though it’s been going on for a little over four years, is not in its best stage. At the end of breakfast, Mitsuko says, “Nice chat, and I apologize, but I’m not sure why.”

That’s the end of the first section, and I’m anxious to have a chance to finish. Washington’s style is not quite to my taste — it’s in the informally curt vein — but that’s far from standing in the way of me enjoying his work and feeling the depths he explores.

I will share my thoughts below when I’ve had a chance to finish. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts as well. Are you enjoying Washington’s work? Are you looking forward to his novel?

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