BookBrowse Reviews On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong X
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jun 2019, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


An intimate portrait of the relationship between mother and son that expertly navigates the indelible effect of war on one Vietnamese American family.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, the bold and bracing debut novel by acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong, centers on Little Dog, the son of a Vietnamese immigrant mother and an absent father. Raised in present-day Hartford in a predominantly white community, Little Dog struggles from an early age to both assimilate with his peers and to honor his Vietnamese heritage, but here Vuong deviates from the standard immigration story blueprint in favor of something more darkly sensual and internal. As the story unfolds, the reader comes to understand that the novel is an elaborate letter written from Little Dog to his mother, though she will never read it, as she is illiterate: the story he tells her is consequently private and unsparing. "The impossibility of you reading this makes my telling it possible," Little Dog confesses.

Vuong first demonstrated his linguistic prowess in his lyrical poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, and now he's extended this talent effortlessly to prose. The writing itself is the first thing that will strike most readers about this book: crafted in a way that feels authentic and raw rather than labored, Vuong's poetic style is a marvel.

"The music in his hands dripping milk, he opens the front door. It is summer. The strays beyond the railroad are barking, which means something, a rabbit or possum, has just slipped out of its life and into the world. The piano notes seep through the boy's chest as he makes his way to the backyard. Because something in him knew she'd be there. That she was waiting. Because that's what mothers do. They wait. They stand still until their children belong to someone else."

The relationship between mother and son is the novel's central conceit, but from there Little Dog's story spirals outward, as Vuong deftly navigates themes of national identity, sexuality, shame, masculinity, violence and social class. In the novel's second act, the focus shifts from Little Dog's family to his first love, a local farm boy named Trevor who slowly becomes incapacitated by an opioid addiction. The relationship between Little Dog and Trevor is fraught, fragile; Little Dog understands that he is gay but Trevor rejects this label, which ultimately forms a chasm between them.

The novel's structure, though it's roughly linear (part 1 is childhood; part 2 is adolescence; part 3 is adulthood), weaves elements of Little Dog's family history into the narrative, including some jarring but necessary passages where Little Dog imagines scenes from the Vietnam War from his grandmother's perspective, which he's pieced together from the stories she's told him. The family's collective PTSD from the war and the anxieties of a queer American teenager all exist within the same space and tell a story that's complex and remarkable in its singularity.

Both an examination of the cultural scars that span generations, and an exacting distillation of the tension between the stories inside us and our inability to share them, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is an accomplished and unforgettable debut. This novel is such a convincing and intimate snapshot that it's at times difficult to remember that what you're reading is fiction and not memoir, though it's of course possible that Vuong's own life as a gay Vietnamese American immigrant informed details of Little Dog's. But even without knowing where exactly Vuong decided to draw the line between fact and fiction, the tender relationships between Little Dog and his mother, grandmother, and Trevor, are all so complex, so recognizable, that the story's verisimilitude is undeniable, as is the author's linguistic mastery.

Reviewed by Rachel Hullett

This review is from the June 19, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Vietnamese Amerasians

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Fake Like Me
    Fake Like Me
    by Barbara Bourland
    After years of trying to make it as a painter in New York City, the unnamed narrator of Fake Like Me...
  • Book Jacket: Hungry
    Hungry
    by Jeff Gordinier
    Noma, René Redzepi's restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, has widely been considered among the ...
  • Book Jacket: With the Fire on High
    With the Fire on High
    by Elizabeth Acevedo
    From Like Water for Chocolate to Ratatouille, writers have recognized the power ...
  • Book Jacket: Lanny
    Lanny
    by Max Porter
    At once beautifully poignant and hauntingly grotesque, Max Porter's Lanny is like an unexpected ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Beirut Hellfire Society
    by Rawi Hage

    A searing and visionary novel set in 1970s Beirut that asks what it means to live through war.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

"An American epic in the truest sense…"
Entertainment Weekly

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win In the Full Light of the Sun

New from Clare Clark!

"Evocative prose and excellent pacing make this fine historical a must-read for art history buffs."
- Publishers Weekly

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A A A Day K T D A

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.