An epistolary novel, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (2019) by Vietnamese-American author and poet Ocean Vuong is one of those rare and courageous feats of modern literature. Consistently compelling, with acute imagery and a dreamlike flow, the story unfolds through Little Dog's letter to his mother, Rose, who's struggled with PTSD and an abusive husband and has fled Vietnam with her son, who she in turn also abuses. Along with grandma Lan, the three have moved from a refugee camp in the Philippines to public housing in Connecticut. Lan's health is failing and her dementia is exasperated by violent memories of war. Rose works at a nail salon and struggles with English and a culture not her own. Meanwhile, Little Dog, gay and Vietnamese in a society bent on spurning him, meets Trevor. The two are working on a tobacco farm for the summer and the boys pair up for a somewhat jagged and at times self-loathing relationship. The final part of the novel (the last of three), and most poetic, is made up of Little Dog's reflections on and interpretations of his past and the connections between these elements that have made him who he is now. And presuming that the novel mirrors the life of Ocean Vuong, then what he is is an exceptionally talented writer and storyteller.
I'm not telling you a story so much as a shipwreck—the pieces floating, finally legible.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous