If you like short fiction and are looking for something new and raw, check out Lot by Bryan Washington. It’s the author’s debut collection of 13 stories, set in Houston, and told mainly by one character. In the first chapter, the central narrator is a 12-year-old boy with a black mother and Latino father. He lives in a poor area of the city with his parents and his older sister and brother above their family-run restaurant, a place where prostitution, drug dealing, murder, gangs, transience and broken families are common. As he comes of age, the narrator’s homosexual relationships are a major theme of the book, especially as he relates to his brother and mother. Later chapters show the narrator as a teenager and young adult, deep into changes and complicated relationships.
Each chapter is a stand-alone story, though they are tied together by the main narrator and other points of view. The “lots” refer to different streets or areas in Houston and are quick looks into the hard lives of the area’s multi-ethnic population. Making rent by whatever means is a common theme. Getting out is another. But for those who get out, for a mere chance to make it, some stay. The burden of staying ultimately falls on the narrator, even when there may be nothing left for him.
Despite their often desperate situations, friendships exist, though many are tenuous or short-lived. Families are often more tenuous and sometimes family isn’t your relatives, it’s the people who look out for you, or even take you in.
The stories are nonlinear and the author’s narrative style is loose, written in an authentic urban slang. Readers need to read for the “feel” of it and to trust that the big picture will be revealed. It is, but with many questions, loose ends, unresolved relationships and unknown futures. That’s the point, I believe, accurately depicting the messy, no promises life of the book’s characters.
I enjoyed Lot because I like discovering new short fiction. It’s an uncensored look at a struggling population with a hopeful finish and I look forward to more from Bryan Washington.
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