From the Jacket
A magical thing happens when a poet writes a novel: you get a story dripping with masterful language like Ocean Vuong’s ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS. It is full of lines and paragraphs with sentiments so beautiful told, I wanted to reread it as soon as I turned the final page. ON EARTH showcases Vuong’s literary talent and mastery of words; it is a stunningly told story that fully deserves the praise it has received.
“I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasn’t trying to make a sentence—I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.”
ON EARTH features a unique storytelling format: it is a letter written from a son to a mother who cannot read. It reads like a memoir, or at least a true story–it made me question if our unnamed narrator, nicknamed “Little Dog,” is meant to be Vuong himself, as they share so many distinctly recognizable characteristics. And yet, what does it mean for a son to write a letter to his illiterate mother? Little Dog discloses so many details I can’t imagine telling my mother–of intimate sexual experiences, etc.–perhaps only because his mother will not understand a word of it. Still, why not write for himself, without addressing his words to anyone?
“They say nothing lasts forever but they’re just scared it will last longer than they can love it.”
ON EARTH’s narrative is, at first, extremely fragmented, then comes to tell the story of Little Dog’s sexuality and his first relationship, the horrible way it ended. Vuong depicts a variety of human struggles including Little Dog’s personal identity crisis and his friends’ battles with narcotics. He moves from light Tiger Woods analogies directly to a serious, somber tone in 0.1 seconds, but I was so enthralled that I barely noticed the shift. ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS feels intensely personal and tragic; it is a beautiful book full of beautiful language, and I feel blessed to have been in Vuong’s head for some 200 pages.
“Ocean Vuong’s Life Sentences” by Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker
“Survival as a Creative Force: An Interview with Ocean Vuong” by Spencer Quong, The Paris Review