I’m benefiting from an influx of new audios at my library (finally).
Memorial by Bryan Washington
Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson’s a Black day care teacher – they’ve been together, happily, for a few years. Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives for a visit. Mike flies to Japan to say goodbye leaving Mitsuko and Benson as unconventional roommates.
My biggest problem with this book was that I didn’t believe the relationships. The characters talked about what they felt but I didn’t see (hear) the evidence, in a way that convinced me – was everyone just a little too accommodating of others? A little too forgiving? A shame, because there were broader themes about culture and family; our role in a family; and our experience of loss, that were interesting – Washington certainly touched on the cost of ‘future losses’ (how life might be if something had/ hadn’t happened) in an original way.
Don’t read this book if you are particularly hungry – there’s a lot of delicious cooking going on, prompting a hankering for Japanese potato croquettes.
Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth
Told from the perspective of a woman whose father has recently died, the story focuses on how the four adult children deal with the ramifications of their father’s last will. The first part of the story is stream-of-consciousness reflections on the past and present. The second part is more action-focused, as the intent of the will is understood by the children.
Will and Testament is an extremely compelling and accomplished take on how our problems with a person don’t die when they die – in fact, they frequently become more troublesome. Hjorth examines the emotions that frequently partner grief – guilt, anger, sadness – and although it’s not difficult to guess the issue at the centre of the story early on, it in no way detracts from the slow reveal – by the time you reach the scene in the lawyer’s office toward the end, the tension is at a peak.
I understand that some readers will find the story slow and drawn-out, but I urge you to read (or listen) closely, and marvel at the restraint Hjorth uses to reveal the main character’s gradual understanding and reconciliation of her trauma.
Other People’s Houses by Kelli Hawkins
Is grief-suspense a new genre?
Other People’s Houses tells the story of grief-stricken Kate Webb, who soothes her pain with alcohol and by attending open houses and imagining the life she might have had. However, her curiosity at one house turns to obsession, and Kate’s life unravels.
This book started so well, but fizzled toward the end as the convenient plot twists added up. So frequently when reading suspense, I am left asking, ‘Why not go to the police?’ and in this case, Kate’s actions can’t be written-off as ‘blinded by grief’, because they are simply too absurd.