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Family Meal

af Bryan Washington

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1255218,230 (3.75)1
"Cam is living in Los Angeles and falling apart after the love of his life has died. Kai's ghost won't leave Cam alone; his spectral visits wild, tender, unexpected, and explosive. When Cam returns to his hometown of Houston, he crashes back into the orbit of his former best friend, TJ, and TJ's family bakery. TJ's not sure how to navigate this changed Cam, impenetrably cool and self-destructing, or their charged estrangement. Can they find a way past all that has been said - and left unsaid - to save each other?"--… (mere)
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Viser 5 af 5
“With every single person, we touch, we’re leaving parts of ourselves. We live through them” (301).

This is a book about the sweet and sour of life. It’s about the place we call home and the people we call family and how both of those help us overcome the sour of life—things like overwhelming grief and stubborn addiction.
After traumatically watching his husband die, Cam returns home to Houston, a place with which he has a complicated past, including a best friend who was more like a brother. Through the the tunnel vision of grief, which includes Kai’s ghost visiting Cam routinely, Cam learns to continue living while also reconciling some demons from his past. Like all stories about emotionally dark places, this is hard to read in certain spots, but it’s also a really beautiful story of friendship and learning to love after loss.

“What did you want him to hear, I say. Bree looks at me. She smirks. That destroying himself wouldn’t make anything better, says Bree. That makes Cam cough. I don’t have to look at him to see the tears falling down his face. Kai’s, dead, says Bree. That’s never going to change. But I need Cam to know that his life wasn’t just his own. I need him to know that there was someone else who fucking cared about him” (271). ( )
  lizallenknapp | Apr 20, 2024 |
“With every single person, we touch, we’re leaving parts of ourselves. We live through them” (301).

This is a book about the sweet and sour of life. It’s about the place we call home and the people we call family and how both of those help us overcome the sour of life—things like overwhelming grief and stubborn addiction.
After traumatically watching his husband die, Cam returns home to Houston, a place with which he has a complicated past, including a best friend who was more like a brother. Through the the tunnel vision of grief, which includes Kai’s ghost visiting Cam routinely, Cam learns to continue living while also reconciling some demons from his past. Like all stories about emotionally dark places, this is hard to read in certain spots, but it’s also a really beautiful story of friendship and learning to love after loss. ( )
  lizallenknapp | Apr 20, 2024 |
Cam and Kai are a couple, it happened, perhaps to their surprise, and they are enjoying it until the death of Kai. This leads Cam to a drug-fueled, sex-addicted, food-denying life of grief. And then an old friend, TJ comes back into his life and it becomes even more complicated or simple depending on how you view life, family and its relationship with food.

One of the major themes in the book is recognising when you are loved and what is done out of love. Anything can be misinterpreted - concern seen as being too involved, wanting to know someone better as asking too much, not telling someone something as a desire to cut them out and then being completely surprised when they come to rescue you.

I enjoyed the changing perspective of the narrator from Cam to TJ and then Kai. Each person filled in some of the gaps in the story and more and more is revealed but in a very sparse form of writing. Cam is haunted by his dead partner Kai and some of their discussion take place in small snippets, each having its own page, floating in the middle but accentuating what is said. I also loved the photos that were included of the flowers, cherry blossom and streets although I am not really sure what they add to the story.

No punctuation for the dialogue is not a hinderance - sometimes it can be. The convention of new speaker, new line is followed so it isn't all one big blob of words that you have to work hard at delineating speakers. What I am less sure about is what it adds or takes away from the telling of the story. Does it make the dialogue more a part of the narration? Thinking about how it would look on the page I can imagine that the amount of speech punctuation you would need for this book would take away some of the sparesness of both the writing and the appearance on the page.

The families are many, fluid and cook, all extremely well, knowing where the equipment is and moving around each other in a dance. It brings them together with the cooking sometimes being payment for accomodation, as a favour to a friend who may become more, and as sustenance. It is very symbolic that Cam denies himself food in grief.

A book to tuck into. ( )
  allthegoodbooks | Jan 23, 2024 |
After the horrific death of his boyfriend, Kai, Cam returns to his hometown of Houston where his oldest friend, TJ, finds him wallowing in drugs, alcohol, and anonymous sex. In Family Meal, Bryan Washington digs into the despair of grief, family secrets, and self-doubt, but also mines the healing depths of family, friendship, and forgiveness. Told through a variety of POVs with Washington’s precise and witty language, Family Meal is an excellent novel for readers of literary fiction. ( )
1 stem Hccpsk | Oct 22, 2023 |
Many thanks to Penguin Random House for this ARC.

This is my third Bryan Washington book (to the best of my knowledge that is everything he has published) and it revisits many themes and concerns of earlier works. In some interesting ways it creates a bridge between the two earlier books, Lot and Memorial (or maybe Memorial is a bridge between this and Lot - I have to think on that.)

This is a book about living through grief and recovery from grief (both fresh grief and past grief that creates the foundation upon which we process new grief.) This is a book about self-destruction and self-preservation, both in relation to grief response and not. This is a book about love, in so many forms, familial (by birth, circumstance, or choice), romantic, and radical love for those who touch our lives even fleetingly and whom we can meet in many different ways. This is a book about cultural disconnects, especially for people of mixed-race and those who grow up in non-bio families where they have different ethnic/racial identifiers than than the other family members. This is a book about sex and all the things it can mean and not mean. (Other reviews mention a lot of cheating, which is untrue. People are non-monogamous by agreement, everyone respects the agreed upon ground rules. That is not cheating. There is only one person here who we know is cheating, a closeted man who is engaged to a woman and secretly having sex with men.) And this is a book about food, about the pleasure and pain it can bring, about how it is a way to show love, deny love to ourselves, and find a substitute for love through overindulgence. Certainly, it is also a book about racism. These people are who they are, in part, because of their cultural connections and their presentation. Some concern themselves with taking up less space, with not being seen, some have more anger and fear in common everyday interactions. Some BIPOC characters forget for a moment how the White people see them and that forgetting brings life-changing consequences. There is no "racism is bad" soliloquy. Rather there are people living, and the fact of living while Black or Korean, or Central Asian, or Thai, or White, or a combo of the above, or whatever impacts their experiences and the fallout. The reader is not being taught a lesson, the reader is being generously given a lens into the lives of other people and has the opportunity to build empathy.

That subtlety is the thing I think I most liked about this book. A central character who pops up fairly late in the book uses they/them pronouns. That is it. No one comments, there is no discussion of how they identify or assignment at birth because it is not relevant. At some point, the reader learns about that person's genitalia and the sexual partners and acts they do and do not enjoy because this character, whom we have come to know for their competence and generosity begins having sex with another character. Everything I mention should not be a big deal, but it is because I do not think I have read another book that featured a trans and/or nonbinary character where there was not discussion of their assigned gender and their precise gender identification. Here it was just a fact, just as it is something not discussed for people on the gender binary. Another example of this subtlety was in professional evolution. The main character has earned a degree in finance at a NY school and worked in that industry in what is implied to have been a very well-compensated position with an upward trajectory. At some point that changes and he ends up doing manual labor, both skilled and unskilled. Why that changed is never discussed, no one asks him if he is returning to finance and no one asks why he left. Maybe it is because of the trauma that is one of the central foci of the book, maybe it happened way before that. We do not know. And that might be a great story, but it is not the story Washington is telling, and he does not get caught up in explaining it for the reader. We can choose to not think about it, or we can bring ourselves to the tale and create our own backstory, or we can just wonder. That is up to us, but Washington is not doing if for us. I love books where that space exists for the reader to imagine parts of the story. Modern writers often feel the need to fill in all the blanks. I am glad Washington does not feel that way.

One last note: I have railed before about GR reviewers' issues with writers not using quotation marks. If it is done well it is only confusing if you choose to be confused by it. This is not a new thing. James Joyce, for one example, loathed quotation marks and basically argued they were there to give authors control over readers' reading pace and immersion level. Still, a lot of readers seem to lose their shit over this. So I am here to warn you, that this book has no quotation marks. There is a lot of conversation and it feels (clearly intentionally) as if the reader is a step removed from those discussions, as if they are being told secondhand what was said. If that bothers you, do not read the book.

I ended between a 4 and a 5 because the ending seemed uncharacteristically clean and unsubtle with a bit of "the moral of the story is" about it. I chose to round up to a Goodreads 5 because that mostly bothered me philosophically, it did not really diminish my enjoyment, and it was just a few pages out of the whole. I recommend this wholeheartedly for all except those people with a deep and abiding love for quotation marks. ( )
1 stem Narshkite | Oct 4, 2023 |
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"Cam is living in Los Angeles and falling apart after the love of his life has died. Kai's ghost won't leave Cam alone; his spectral visits wild, tender, unexpected, and explosive. When Cam returns to his hometown of Houston, he crashes back into the orbit of his former best friend, TJ, and TJ's family bakery. TJ's not sure how to navigate this changed Cam, impenetrably cool and self-destructing, or their charged estrangement. Can they find a way past all that has been said - and left unsaid - to save each other?"--

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