On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Vuong, Ocean. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. New York: Penguin Press, 2019.

Reason read: Are you holding onto your hats? Are you sitting down? I’m going off the Challenge list for this one. Why? Basically, I will read everything my sister recommends. Why? She’s cool and she doesn’t waste her time with boring books.

Is it enough to say that On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is heartbreakingly beautiful? I could go on to elaborate: the language is harsh yet poignant, stark yet lush, truthful yet magical. Little Dog writes a letter to his mother to…what? Explain his choices? Tell her how her life has shaped his? Make a declaration of love to the world around him? His motives are unclear, but the language stirs the heart. For example, the imagery of a lighthouse: seen as both shelter and warning. Could a woman be both monster and mother?

Lines I loved: “We sidestep ourselves in order to move forward” (p 53). If I were a lecturer and I had actually coined that phrase I would repeat it and ask the audience to let the words sink in. There is more truth in those eight little words than I care to admit. One more to quote, “Maybe we look in mirrors not merely to seek beauty, regardless of how illusive, but to make sure, despite the facts, that we are still here” (p 138).

Book trivia: this should be a movie. Seriously. For something completely random, Vuong thanked Frank Ocean. I am wondering if this is the same Frank Ocean Dermot Kennedy thanked for the song, “Swim Good.”

Author fact: According to the back flap of On Earth… Vuong lived in Northampton in 2019. I am not a stalker so I don’t know if that’s still true. If it is, this author is less than 30 minutes from me. Cool. In a more widely (undisputed) fact, Vuong is a poet which is abundantly obvious in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

Playlist: Khanh Ly, Neil Young, 50 Cent, Etta James, Curtis Jackson, Chopin, Justin Timberlake, Miles Davis, Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?,” Led Zeppelin’s “Get Rich, or Die Tryin’,” “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”



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