Family Meal

Riverhead. Oct. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9780593421093. $27. F
In his second novel (after Memorial), NYPL Young Lion Washington offers a heart-shaking, scorchingly honest study of the damage we do ourselves, the lure of addictive behavior, and the courage it takes to face one’s anguish. After the death of his lover Kai, a devastated Cam returns home to Houston from Los Angeles, haunted by Kai’s loquacious ghost. Working at a queer bar called Harry’s, Cam encounters TJ, to whom he was once close as breathing; TJ’s Korean father and Black mother took in Cam when he was orphaned, he worked in their bakery, and together the two boys discovered what it means to be queer. Now they’re estranged, and the bitterness between them is palpable. Yet so is the love. When Cam’s awful emptiness pushes him into destructive behavior, affectingly shown, TJ is there for him, and Cam is later there to call out TJ’s demons. It’s a long road, but in the end Cam can say, “What I have learned is that we need everyone.” Fittingly, everyone in this novel, from TJ’s parents and bakery workers to Kai’s family to bar owner Fern and his husband and son, is beautifully drawn.
VERDICT A group portrait that strikingly captures both pain and healing; highly recommended.
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