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Review of “Family Meal” by Bryan Washington: Distant Voices and Quiet Lives


Bryan Washington’s second novel, “Family Meal”, delves into the themes of interracial gay relationships, loss of a parent, and personal identity. It follows his previous works, a collection of short stories and a highly praised debut novel, “Memorial”.

In this passage, Washington explores similar ideas. The story follows Cam, the main character, as he lives a reckless life in Houston, Texas following the death of his partner, Kai. He engages in excessive drug use, self-starvation, and anonymous sex. When a childhood friend named TJ reenters his life, he brings along complicated emotions about Cam and their shared past. Cam’s family members, who are either deceased or distant, play a significant role in the story. His parents passed away in a car accident, while TJ’s Korean father, Jin, also died and Kai was estranged from his own parents.

The book is told from the perspectives of three main characters: Kai, who speaks from beyond the grave, and two others who are filled with resentment, guilt, and misery. I liked how the story portrayed diversity in terms of race, sexuality, and culture, and also highlighted the importance of friendship. The book also makes clever remarks about gentrification in Houston, which is a mix of different types of neighborhoods, including newly built condos and well-maintained gardens owned by wealthy homeowners who took advantage of a housing loophole.

However, Family Meal largely comes across as a pale imitation of Washington’s first work. It touches on themes such as the loss of parents, a blend of East Asian and Black backgrounds, and a range of supporting characters. The motif of food as a means of conveying emotions and the non-traditional household arrangements and fragile relationships are also present.

The story explores a complicated romantic dynamic involving both living and deceased characters, as well as themes of friendship, love, and family bonds. However, the overall tone is lacking in warmth and filled with negative accusations. At times, the events are cringe-worthy for the reader. The author’s preface states that individuals dealing with mental health issues or body dysmorphia may find this novel challenging, and encourages them to be gentle with themselves and read at their own pace. The author thanks readers for their time and support.

Unfortunately, Family Meal follows a similar path to life, as its characters struggle through their emotions of guilt, pain, anger, and grief without the aid of wit, charm, or eloquence, and with minimal excitement. In the end, Family Meal fails to provide enough substance for its extended duration.

Source: theguardian.com