“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.
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 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.