I was so happy to receive On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong in the very first subscription box for Books with a Conscience in August. I was very happy to have the opportunity to read it in September as I don't want to get behind on books that I'm receiving on a monthly basis. When this book was chosen by the service, it sounded like the perfect pick for me - it has been on my radar for a while.
The book is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation.
Little Dog was a complex and lovable character - so much so that I feel Vuong must have been taking inspiration from his own life or someone close to him, as he was written with such honesty that he couldn't possibly be entirely fictional.
This book is undeniably, beautifully written. Every sentence is carefully constructed, and you can easily see that Vuong has a special talent when it comes to writing; it is no surprise that he is also a poet. This is a type of writing style I would say is generally unforgiving for a reader like myself. It wasn't linear in it's form and it feels more like the book is made up of occasional musings/poems, but once I got used to it - and understood the authors intention - I relaxed into the style and didn't find it too vexing.
There are certainly some powerful scenes in On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. One in particular, discussing the first (and ongoing) times he had sex. In these instances, I found it harder to be immersed in the idea that the entire novel was a letter for his mother. As much as it is a moving premise that she cannot read, therefore he is able to pour his heart out in every and any way (including going into extreme detail about losing his virginity to a man), I would never dare take that risk! But each to their own, Little Dog.
Overall, I have to commend this book on the poignant writing, and wonderful character development throughout. However, writing of this style is not something I lean towards as it can pull focus from other aspects of the novel - this is purely a personal preference. If you are looking for some beautifully written prose, and a heartwarming story, I high recommend On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (and of course I recommend Books with a Conscience as a wonderful gift to yourself or a loved one. Their website: www.bookswithaconscience.com)
Initial Prediction: 4.5 stars
Final Rating: 4 stars
Publication Date: 20 Jun 2019
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
# of Pages: 246