An 'excruciatingly beautiful' novel from a celebrated poet

'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' by Ocean Vuong
'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' by Ocean Vuong
Courtesy of publisher

Every week, The Thread checks in with booksellers around the country about their favorite books of the moment. This week, we spoke to Aaron Cance from The Printed Garden in Sandy, Utah.

Ocean Vuong has earned glowing reviews for his poetry, and now his mastery of language extends into the fiction realm.

Bookseller Aaron Cance recommends Vuong’s novel, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.”

The novel follows Little Dog, a young boy drawn from Vuong’s own childhood self.

“It’s a novel about identity. It’s about Little Dog’s insatiable hunger to find his place in the world,” Cance said. “But before he can find his place in the world, he has to find out who he is and embrace that person.”

Little Dog lives with his mother and maternal grandmother, whose presence “provides this inescapable backdrop of the Vietnam War, which is a very passive element in the story, but it’s always there … You can kind of feel its presence behind everything.”

“Sadly, as Little Dog searches for that sense of identity, he encounters plenty of other people who are eager to challenge that search,” Cance said. The boy is bullied by a group of his white classmates, who meet him with taunts of “Don’t you speak English?”

The novel explores “what it’s like to try and find acceptance while being both gay and Vietnamese in 21st century America.”

“The language of the prose is so excruciatingly beautiful that it threatens to crush the reader from within,” Cance said. “It really ends up being a novel that will touch every single one of its readers, because it becomes a novel just about finding the core of who you are, and embracing that person, whatever that person looks like.”

“I think this book honestly has ‘Pulitzer Prize winner’ written all over it. It instantly, for me, became the book to beat in 2019. Everything else I read for the rest of this year is going to be measured against this novel.“

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.