cover image Family Meal

Family Meal

Bryan Washington. Riverhead, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-42109-3

Washington’s tender, melancholic latest (following Memorial) explores the complicated nature of grief and love. Cam, mourning the death of his lover Kai, is back in Houston after spending time in rehab, but he’s still struggling with addiction and an eating disorder. When the bar he’s working at closes, Cam accepts childhood friend TJ’s job offer at his family bakery. Between his visions of the deceased Kai and attempts to ease his pain with random hookups, Cam’s despair is palpable: he feels he is “suffocating from the weight of myself.” At the narrative’s midpoint, the perspective shifts first to Kai’s flashbacks, then to TJ, who observes that Cam’s grief and psychological work in rehab have transformed him into “a weed in the concrete that finally found wiggle room.” TJ’s parallel story is equally consuming, as he navigates his secret relationship with Ian and his budding romance with Noel, a new employee at the bakery. When Noel asks TJ to cook a meal for their family, the two begin a tentative relationship that forces TJ to question what he really wants. Washington brings his tough but fragile characters to life with quietly powerful prose, as when TJ reflects, “I didn’t want to be accepted or tolerated. I wanted to just be.” Readers will be deeply moved. Agent: Danielle Bukowski, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct.)