Oof, this story. Okay, like many (half? a third? I’m not sure) of the stories in Lot: Stories, this one returns to a single family, and is told through the voice of the youngest son, who is gay and coming to grips with that, and who has already seen his father walk away by this point, and his sister is more or less also gone from the family. His mother runs the restaurant she and his father opened—perpetually on the edge of running out of money—and this tale opens with his elder brother, Javi’s proclamation that “the only thing worse than junkie father was a faggot son.”
This nameless son character is the anchor of the collection, and every time we step back to him, he is both losing something and gaining something—though rarely does it seem like the gains are worth the losses. Here, his brother Javi, who has been careening further and further out of control in various stories, joins the military and is eventually shipped to the Middle East. The main character writes him, and there’s this brilliant passage where he walks right up to the edge of coming out without completely doing so, but in a way that makes it perfectly clear if one is willing to see it… and the brother never writes him again.
What follows in the story is that balance of loss and gain I was talking about earlier, and in Washington’s hands, the reality of the two is done so freaking deftly. Things are falling apart again, every time a little worse, but you can feel the strength of this character forming. The casualness of his queerness is there, and despite not being completely out to his brother, the rest of his family has figured it out or has been told (or some amalgamation of the two) and it’s not their largest problem (it’s not a problem at all, really). They’re broke. They’re hurting. Worse news arrives, again. The solution isn’t one he wants to see happen, but it is going to happen. And so he goes onward.