On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son, named Little Dog, to his illiterate mother. The majority of the letter deals with Little Dog coming to terms with and making sense of his life and the lives of his mother and grandmother. He tells his memory of events from childhood all the way through college graduation. The letter is an attempt for him, a gay, college-educated, young man to bridge the gap between who he is and his family, specifically his mother, an immigrant woman who suffers from PTSD from the Vietnam War.
The author of the novel, Ocean Vuong is himself gay and an immigrant from Vietnam. Vuong’s work as a poet is evident in the novel. Vuong frequently uses metaphor and lush imagery to peek into the mind of Little Dog. Vuong winds in and out of reality and dream without much indication to the reader which is which. This works, as Little Dog is retelling his memories. How often do our memories get warped? How easy is it misremember, to dream a memory? While beautifully written, the throughline gets muddled sometimes.
Further muddling the narrative is the fact that Little Dog writes his letter nonlinearly. The overall effect is successful. I felt like I was floating in Little Dog’s memories with him. As if Little Dog were writing things down his stream of conscious: one memory jogging another jogging another bringing him back to the original event.
What I found to be the most rewarding part of the book was that Vuong, despite his poetic style of writing, did not hide or bury any of the atrocities or traumatic events in his life of the lives of his family in flowerly language. He looked those events square in the eye, named them for what they were, and then found poetic ways of weaving those events into his life. A warning to readers: this book does deal with child abuse, mental illness, and drug abuse.
BINGO – UNCANNON