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Lot: Stories

Review

Lot: Stories

Bryan Washington’s much anticipated debut book of short stories has made quite the buzz in the literary scene. At only 25 years old, he already has accomplished what most writers dream of, publishing to rave reviews. Such an established writer at a young age, Washington also has written for respected outlets, including The New Yorker and the New York Times. Much of his work focuses on LGBTQ issues and the place he calls home, Houston, Texas. LOT examines the underbelly of the city, and a boy coming of age, exploring his sexuality and relationships with those around him who fight for their place in the world.

The diverse cast of characters in these stories makes the book brim with life. And some of the harrowing tales of cheating, murder and abuse give us a glimpse into how the protagonist must have felt --- at times alone and scared --- when witnessing the way his neighbors and family members struggled.

In LOT, the protagonist of most of the stories is a biracial boy who goes unnamed until the end of the book. Growing up the son of a black mother and Latino father, he works in a restaurant, preoccupied with the lives of his siblings, friends and neighbors who live and die in Houston. Sooner or later, he must find his own identity and make a path for himself outside the confines of what those around him have determined.

"The diverse cast of characters in these stories makes the book brim with life.... As readers, we should look out for Bryan Washington. I believe he has more to say, and I look forward to reading his next work."

One of the stories that left quite an imprint on my mind deals with a woman who cheats on her husband. Paul, who moved to the country from Jamaica, is a doctor and has no idea that his wife, Aja, is sleeping with the man upstairs whom the protagonist and his neighbors call “whiteboy.” Aja is beautiful but also has a wandering eye. In fact, Paul’s father had cheated on his mother. Fed up, his mom poisoned her husband’s oxtail stew, and he died right at the dinner table. That’s when Paul decided he wanted to be a doctor. Maybe he could've saved his dad. In the end, when whispers start circulating, and a couple of neighbors throw Paul hints that his wife is cheating, he decides to take matters into his own hands.

Another story introduces the protagonist’s cousin, Gloria from Kingston, whose baby passed away shortly after his birth. She then became a prostitute for a while, and now lives with the protagonist and his family, sleeping in the guest room. Sometimes, when alone, he fights with her and says nasty things, like the baby is better off without her. He says his mother called her a whore and doesn’t talk to her for weeks. After he apologizes, Gloria sneaks into his room, touches and kisses him, and proceeds to do more.

We also meet Raul --- one of the only times a narrator is mentioned by name --- who wears tattered clothes and hangs out on street corners. He soon starts helping to sell drugs with the dealer he meets while on a certain block. This man, Avery, pulls up in a black car with tinted windows, wearing sunglasses. The two start driving around together, and Raul, even though he doesn’t speak good English, makes decent money, enough that his family doesn’t bother to ask where he got it from.

Avery wants more for Raul. He says, “It’d be one thing if you weren’t smart. If you were a f---ing idiot, I’d say live fast, live fast. But you’re not a f---ing idiot. You’re not smart, but you’re not that.” Then he talks about not wanting Raul to be in this life forever. What if he meets a woman and has kids and gets caught, leaving them penniless while he rots in jail? One day, while doing rounds, Avery spots a kid on a block who looks like he’s feening for drugs and beats him up. What ensues ultimately leads Raul to contemplate his life all over again.

This collection explores an area of Houston where cockroaches dance across the floors of apartments, air conditioning doesn’t work, and neighbors who need a handout disappear in the middle of the night. LOT is the name of this book due to the empty lots in Houston where construction booms, leaving the narrator feeling kind of sad because things are changing.

As readers, we should look out for Bryan Washington. I believe he has more to say, and I look forward to reading his next work.

Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on March 22, 2019

Lot: Stories
by Bryan Washington

  • Publication Date: March 19, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0525533672
  • ISBN-13: 9780525533672