This book quite literally blew me away, knocked the wind out of my lungs and had me crawling amongst my tattered dreams of wanting to be a writer – because, you see, Bryan Washington is the writer I want to be.
Washington delivers a beguiling collection of intimate portraits of the lost and silenced voices of Houston’s black and Latin working class communities. These voices and subsequent themes, combined with Washington’s deft prose, all contribute to make this the most urgent book I’ve ever read. A heady cocktail for the mind, body and soul.
‘Javi said the only thing worse than a junkie father was a faggot son. This was near the beginning of the end, after one of my brother’s marathon binges; a week or two before he took the bus to Georgia for basic training’
Lot is a collection of thirteen linked short stories that are held together by reoccurring stories from one particular Houstonian family, as we witness them struggle to hold things together through heartache and loss, belonging and the aching chasm of wanting to belong – they are under the microscope, and we get to watch as they struggle to hold everything together, struggle to survive, before inevitably, it tears apart at its seams and spills over the sidewalk, bleeding into the city of Houston.
In the city of Houston – a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America – the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys.
If this family and their deftly crafted stories were the main course, then the other stories in Lot are most definitely the seasoning. They all feed into this broiling, overarching and intrinsically woven structure that Washington has masterfully created. They are the veins carrying the rich voice, vividly detailed sense of place, and the brutally honest depictions of Houstonians into this body of astoundingly rich stories.
The main protagonist and his family are the bones (the scaffolding) that this collection hangs off, and the other stories, are the flesh, blood, gristle and organs. But what makes Lot so very special, is the beating heart at its centre, which is Houston (a character in its own right).
In unflinching and terse prose Washington is able to create believable characters which mesmerise the reader and feel as if they exist outside of this collection. We have the honest and unflinching account of a young, black, gay man struggling with the pressures of society, family, generations of bigoted world views, racism, poverty, gentrification and the aftermath of hurricane Harvey (and that is to name only a few). Lot is brave, daring and direct; with Washington capturing the city at its moments of development and destruction, lives in chaos and those clinging to hope and change, and in his observations he has produced a masterpiece of a collection – forget it being contained within a book, this body of work should be hung in a gallery for all to see its intrinsic beauty. Washington’s impact on American letters cannot be understated!
Lot is a firecracker of a collection that I couldn’t stop reading, there are so many stories that I want to talk about ‘Elgin‘, ‘South Congress‘, but my favourites were the title story ‘Lot‘ and also ‘Waugh‘ – but to talk about these in any great depth, would spoil the enjoyment and the discovery of these little masterpieces for yourself, so I will refrain.
Bryan Washington has assembled a collection of stories that give a voice to the voiceless, they are stories about finding belonging and acceptance, about discovering your place in a world that is full of social stigmas – with Washington shining a light on the plight of the under-privileged and forgotten people that make up Houston.
‘When we made it to the body, my brother snatched my hand. He made me touch Rick’s face. He told me this was what happened to fags.’
Washington’s writing is brilliantly ambitious, tender and unforgivingly visceral, no matter where you grew up, or where you come from, reading these stories, living these lives for the briefest of moments, you’ll have found yourself in Houston.
Lot is published by Atlantic Books and is available here.
Bryan Washington has written for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, BuzzFeed, The Paris Review, Boston Review, Tin House, One Story, GQ, FADER, The Awl, and Catapult. He lives in Houston, Texas.
BryWashing.com / @BryWashing
Author Photo from Atlantic Books
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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