Lot: Stories, Bryan Washington’s brilliant collection of short fiction, has a character who spends most of the stories unnamed, but who is revisited as the collection continues. He’s the lens through which about half the tales happen, and every visit with him nudges his life a bit further forward. He’s back again in “Wayside,” and the tension dials higher again (which was already beginning to creep up in the last visit we had with the young man). His brother—does he know?—explains to this character ‘what happened to fags,’ and I flinched away from the text, recognizing all to easily those moments of hidden-hate, where you can’t react except in the way the one spewing the hatred needs to see you react. It’s a visceral moment, a sudden sharp shock to the system at the end of the story, and for that moment alone, I’d sing “Wayside”‘s praises.
But there’s a lot more going on here, too. The restaurant now in the hands of his mother is still running on fumes, and so the brothers supplement income with drug sales; the sister is barely present, the father is now long gone, and the brother seems destined for a dark fate—this is telegraphed to the reader a few times. You get the sense that this man’s life is about watching those he is connected with fall away, one by one, and as a narrative design, each story seems to do just that: show you a little more loss, another lost connection, and it’s so damn effective.
Again, if you’ve not picked up this collection, you should. The voices in the stories are so incredibly strong, and as a queer reader, the people and settings are ones we don’t see nearly enough in queer fiction. “Wayside” is one of the shortest tales in the collection, but it packs one of the hardest punches, and the prose—not spare, but the economy of words—is just a master class in “exactly enough.” The whole collection is wonderful. “Wayside” was brilliant.