Bryan Washington is a bold new voice bringing this particular brand of modern fiction to the fore.
With Lot, Bryan Washington presents a fully-formed neighborhood narrative told through a series of vignettes dealing with race, sexuality, social status and generational differences. Set in Houston, each story comes together to create a greater whole, one that reads as much as a novel as a collection of serialized stories. Washington’s style relies on both plainspoken language and geographically-specific shorthand, making each character’s interactions feel all the more believable and lived-in. From the young narrator of “Lockwood” coming to terms with his sexuality and the inner workings of neighborhood gossip and the ramifications it can have, to the exploration of race relations in “610 North, 610 West,” Washington creates a vivid picture of a contemporary American big-city neighborhood, one made up of innumerable cultures, creeds and characters.
A Houston resident, Washington strictly adheres to the adage of “writing what you know.” In works that have appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Buzzfeed and Vulture, Washington has proven himself an important young voice on issues of race, modern society and the LGBTQ community. All of this comes together and to the fore throughout Lot, primarily in the form of the aforementioned young man, the son of a black mother and Latino father, who takes in the changing world around him. In Washington’s hands, characters who would elsewhere be relegated to mere caricature or superficial, stereotypical short-hand, are given depth and nuance that helps make even the most singular of stories universally relatable.
“Alief” follows the chain of neighborhood gossip through a number of the characters populating Lot, using first-, second-, third- and fourth-hand accounts of a domestic melodrama that comes to encompass not only the neighborhood and its inhabitants, but also the larger overarching issues of race and social inequality. “South Congress” deals with the chronic issue of drugs within an urban setting and the impact they can have on the immigrant communities dwelling therein. “Elgin” explores a loving same-sex relationship in a way that goes beyond the superficiality of mere novelty and into something much more nuanced and, in a way, traditional.
It’s this, for lack of a better term, normalization of previously considered taboo issues and topics that makes Lot so affecting. Thankfully, we are in a golden age of such literature in which the previously marginalized individuals are given a voice that transcends overly-broad stereotypes and instead creates a series of characters steeped in nuance and universally-relatable humanity. It seems silly to have to remark upon the novelty of such a thing, but it is rather remarkable – not to mention wonderful and about time – that minority characters are finally coming into the majority.
In this, Bryan Washington is a bold new voice bringing this particular brand of modern fiction to the fore, using the world around him – essentially a modern America in miniature – to explore the most pressing issues of the day in a way that feels both inclusive and infinitely relatable. After all, at the end of the day, we all have far more in common with one another than we’ve been lead to believe. It’s time we take a moment to get to know those around us and see that, despite the shitshow playing out on a national scale on the nightly news, there is still a great deal of hope and love and community if we just take a moment to seek it out.