In this issue of the Queer Book Nook, we will explore On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. This book is written as a letter from a son, called Little Dog, to his mother who cannot read.
This book is a rare gem in that, not only is it LGBTQ+, it’s written almost like poetry. The descriptions are stunning and the underlying theme of being forced into silence at pivotal moments of your life, such as when you’re going through addictions or trauma.
Little Dog (a nickname given to him by his grandmother) is the queer son of a Vietnamese immigrant in his late twenties when he writes his letter, taking the reader on a journey of the relationship between him and his mother, who was raising him as a single mother. If this wasn’t enough, we’re also treated to a brutal journey of race, immigration, and what it means to be a man, shining the spotlight on toxic masculinity.
It’s interesting that one aspect of writing this letter is for Little Dog to feel like he’s being heard, but since his mother wasn’t educated past age five, the letter will likely go unread, thus perpetuating the issue of being unheard and misunderstood. Little Dog says in the letter, “ I am writing to reach you—even if each word I put down is one word further from where you are.” It becomes clear that he doesn’t expect the letter to ever be read, but instead is using it to lance the feelings built up within him.
Aside from detailing his relationship with his mother and his grandmother, Little Dog tells us about his relationship with Trevor. Having met one summer while working in a tobacco barn, their relationship blossomed and they discovered each other as they discovered who they themselves were. Vuong’s words were blistering when detailing the relationship between Little Dog and Trevor, stating “did you ever feel coloured-in when a boy found you with his mouth?” By the time they fall in love, the reader has also fallen in love with their relationship and the writing itself.
Trevor is addicted to painkillers in the novel and this is one of the difficulties Little Dog talks about when trying to medicate emotional pain when, as a man, you’re not allowed to show emotion. Little Dog says it perfectly himself, stating “I’m not telling you a story so much as a shipwreck—the pieces floating, lit up, finally legible.”
By the time the reader has reached the end of the book, they feel raw and bruised and also, coddled in a soft blanket, as contradictory as it sounds. The words are beautiful and poignant and the descriptions of the war and what a woman must do in hard times when there are no doors open hit hard as a punch to the stomach. I would recommend this book to anyone who is searching to understand themselves more by understanding what has come before them.