Family Meal by Bryan Washington

In Bryan Washington's Family Meal, a cast of friends, family and lovers come together to consider ideas of intimacy and interdependence

Book Review by Kevin Guyan | 11 Oct 2023
  • Family Meal by Bryan Washington
Book title: Family Meal
Author: Bryan Washington

"We’re figuring it out," explains TJ – one of the many queer protagonists in Bryan Washington’s Family Meal. Much of the characters’ time is spent "figuring it out" and while this might suggest a plot that lacks high drama, the opposite is true.

The lives of Cam, Kai and TJ are interconnected in complex ways, shuttling between intense ups and downs. Their relationships offer profound commentary on who counts as family, the tensions between love and loss and our inseparability from the lives of others. As with Washington’s previous novel, Memorial, themes of gender, race and sexuality are brought to life across geographies in Texas and Japan. The emptiness of Houston, in particular, reflects the hollowness that several of the characters battle against. But, by the end of the book, earlier descriptions of empty sex and destructive behaviours are complemented by moments of tenderness and joy, often in unexpected places.

Those invited to join Washington’s family meal go beyond the narrow invite list of parents, siblings and partners. To live a meaningful life also involves friends, lovers, colleagues, bosses and hook-ups – as Cam observes, "it takes all of these people to make one person’s life okay." Family Meal achieves a huge amount. It sticks out as an ugly, queer romance that – in quiet ways – tells us a lot about who we are and why we need each other.

Cover art for Family Meal by Bryan Washington. The words 'Family Meal' are in the centre of the image in white, with a small black and white photograph of a Black man in the bottom left corner.

Atlantic Books, 12 Oct