On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a raw and lyrical novel, written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. It unfolds, non-chronologically, the story not only of a man in his twenties looking back at growing up, but of his mother and grandmother, of a family who came to America from Vietnam, and of trauma travelling across time and generations. The narrator tells, through the letter form, parts of his life that his mother didn’t know about, particularly his relationship with Trevor which was marred with addiction and the realities of life.
Vuong’s move to prose in this, his first novel, bears deep traces of his poetry, with the same powerful use of imagery and words that leave an imprint on the reader. The style helps the structure—which moves across time and brings flashbacks into accounts of particular scenes—to flow, and recurring images leave a memorable impression. Powerful and raw topics—race, class, sexuality, violence, opioid addition, death—are explored in a way that is both immediate and poetic.
This is a novel about unfolding your story and getting the chance to tell it as it is. Fans of Vuong’s poetry will enjoy the lyrical prose and the way he weaves a kind of narrative out of the letter format, and just the title hints at the poetic nature of the novel. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a powerful book people will be talking about, and rightly so.