[REVIEW] On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong

(Buy it HERE.)

“Who will be lost in the story we tell ourselves? Who will be lost in ourselves?”

This is a messy book. There’s a lot going on between its covers–PTSD, emerging sexuality, poverty, war, immigration, mental illness, class, race, abuse, art, gender performance. There’s a lot going on, but it all seems to add up to love, albeit a wistful imperfect love shared out between a half-dozen very broken, emotionally malnourished people, all set to an unlikely soundtrack of 50 Cent and Chopin.

You really can find almost anything on the Internet, even if it’s not exactly what you want.

The story explores the life of Little Dog, a Vietnamese-American immigrant raised by his mother and grandmother in Hartford, Connecticut. As he grows up, he gets into a tentative relationship with a local boy named Trevor, who slowly declines due to addiction just as Little Dog’s star begins rising.

“Whether we want to or not, we are traveling in a spiral, we are creating something new from what is gone.”

This book is a LOT. It’s a slow, sad, beautiful read, a spiritual successor to Morrison, Angelou and other narrative greats who explore cultural pain. It’s also achingly familiar. It’s rare that I see what I think of as my America represented in print, but this is a literary sketch of the America I know and love in absentia. Little Dog lives in a neighborhood made grim and intense and very multicultural by poverty and the social failure-to-thrive syndrome that comes from personal and cultural trauma and oppression. I get it. I really do. Little Dog and Trevor could have been any one of a dozen lonely boys I knew growing up. As sad as this book was, there was also a sweetness in seeing another Child of the Secret do good despite the pain, as Charles De Lint might say.

I liked it a lot. It has about fifteen different endings and the pace is imperfect but it’s a marvelously affecting read, nonetheless.

Five stars and a survivor’s grief hug to Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

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