Memorial is a novel about a relationship breakdown, family, and the path that life takes. Benson, a Black daycare teacher, and Mike, a Japanese-American chef, have been together for a few years, but things between them haven’t been going so well. When Mike’s mother comes over from Japan to visit their Houston apartment just as Mike flies out to Japan to visit his estranged father who is dying, their relationship becomes even more strained, with Benson suddenly living with Mike’s mother. Their relationship with each other and with their families starts to change, and it seems that maybe love isn’t everything.
This is a complex novel that delves into different emotions and looks at a relationship where the characters still love each other, but also don’t seem to be getting along. The narrative balances this with their respective relationships with their families, and the different ways they interact with people in their lives, to give a detailed picture of the two protagonists. A notable element of the novel is the fact that Benson is HIV positive but it isn’t a big deal; rather, it has strained his connection with his family, but doesn’t restrict his life. All of the characters are flawed and often selfish and self-absorbed, and this works well with the structure of telling the story from the POV of Benson, then Mike, then Benson again to show their complex emotions and lack of sympathy a lot of the time.
Memorial is a bittersweet look at a relationship that isn’t working out, and at slowly rebuilding familial relationships. It gives the protagonists space to potentially move on and change, or to not really change, and was emotional and powerful (though not one if you want a book where everything works out unambiguously).