The Many Forms of Ocean Vuong


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Ocean Vuong

243 pages, Fiction

Apparently, I’m reading author’s works in reverse these days. I haven’t read a single poem by Ocean Vuong—but I have. His novel is a long form poem in places. Some lines are haikus. A couple chapters are prose poems. It doesn’t really matter: the book is incredible.

I’m trying to think what this story is similar too and I am struggling. I am okay with that. The novel is a love letter to an abusive mother, a crazed grandmother, virginity and rough sex, filth, summer jobs, drugs, crumbling cities, war, and animals. Maybe Mr. Vuong is a 21st century Walt Whitman? On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous reminds me of Leaves of Grass in that it celebrates and sings of Americans, blue collar Americans, and real American cities. Like Whitman, Mr. Vuong loves all beauty, even the kind that hurts, even the kind that drives people to hate you. The novel is grand and concise and cuts with a razor’s edge. I stopped and reread so many lines—not because they were obtuse, but just so damn well phrased.

Believe the hype. This novel will stand up over time. I suggest you give a couple reads.