‘Lot’ by Bryan Washington

Tough, bruising short story narratives, Lot tells of an interconnected world of poverty, violence, dashed dreams where Nicolás lives surrounded by basic shotgun dwellings with busted TVs and perennially blocked pipes. Set predominantly in the poorer, migrant communities of Houston, Lot connects the dots in the lives of characters who cannot escape the drudge of their lives. Their lot has been determined.

Nicolás, with a black mother and feckless Latino father who abandons his family, is central to Washington’s focussed yet fractured narrative. A teenager who lives above the family restaurant, neither he nor his older siblings go hungry. Yet they struggle and the pull of the streets is too much for brother Javi, who finds himself hustling drugs, discovering sex and beating on Nicolás. His younger brother has himself just discovered he likes boys – something Nicolás can never reveal to his homophobic brother.

But Washington offers no linear narrative – like Houston itself, this is a sprawling miasma – of storytelling, of the everyday of living on the margins where, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, even those living on the margins are pushed further out. Houston is molting. The city sheds all over the concrete. … [A]fter the storm, they pushed the rest of us out, too: if you couldn’t afford to rebuild, then you had to go. If you broke the bank rebuilding, then you couldn’t stay. If you couldn’t afford to leave, and you couldn’t afford to fix your life, then what you had to do was watch the neighborhood grow further away from you.

Tales of neighbourhood reactions to a local woman and her affair with a white boy, an ageing drug dealer, the apartment with a group of young queer sex workers who discover their de facto leader has contracted HIV: Lot is vibrant, beautifully modulated. Dotted throughout with Spanish of the ‘hood, it’s a visceral soul that is both unflinching yet tender, compassionate yet honest.

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