Hardcover, 978-0-5255-3367-2, 240 pgs., $25
March 19, 2019
Lot: Stories is full of sharp edges and snapshots of life on the streets of Houston, Texas, in neighborhoods that harbor little hope for happiness or even clean water.
Bryan Washington tells it like it is. No language or rough situation is off limits because this is life. This is a deep level of humanity at its worst and sometimes even at its finest. People are either born into such poverty and hard choices or they fall into them for any number of reasons. Survival by any means necessary for another day—another moment even—becomes the focus, and relationships among family, friends, and lovers are transient, delicate, and effortlessly broken.
If you’re easily offended by foul language, sex, and real people maneuvering the murky streets, then this book will be difficult to handle and digest. But Lot offers a particular beauty among the ashes of despair because it portrays a jagged truth about people’s ability to take life’s punches and still get up and hope for something better.
The stories jump across many streets in Houston, and the dark closes in fast in these areas, and not only at night. The characters’ day-to-day existence, acceptance, reluctance, and anger are both unique and universal. The book has no beginning, middle, or end because what is between these pages is the ongoing essence of life. This cycle of grabbing a slice of happiness and love one minute and having it snatched away the next refuses to stop. While each vignette in Lot portrays a small portion of a bitter existence, they don’t flow together smoothly. However, this uneven cadence throughout is appropriate and mimics the actual movement of these people as they navigate the bumpy roads of continuity.
Bryan Washington is an unusual yet masterful storyteller and has an uncanny ability to open a window so that we can peek in and see what is going on. If you are not from the streets, you see only what you want to see. You don’t always see the daily battle to eat, sleep, love, and live. You don’t see the hearts and souls of the people struggling with addiction, scraping to provide, and scrabbling to exist. But with Lot, we get to see it and feel it.
Granted, these stories are difficult to read, yet they are necessary if we are to understand and maybe one day break that cycle, or at least hobble it. Because when you finish Lot, you will see that sometimes when an opportunity arises to fly out of the gloom, maintaining the status quo because it is familiar—albeit dreadful—is easier than venturing into the unknown. Change has to start on the inside before it can spread its wings and change on the outside because, “You are the one thing you can never run out on.”
If you like an edge to the books you read, and if you like a disturbing yet truthful glimpse into a harsh reality, Lot offers that and so much more.
Bryan Washington has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, BuzzFeed, Vulture, The Paris Review, Tin House, One Story, Bon Appétit, MUNCHIES, American Short Fiction, GQ, FADER, The Awl, and Catapult. His first short story collection, Lot: Stories, was published by Riverhead Books on March 19, 2019. He lives in Houston. Visit him online at https://brywashing.com/