Published in June 2019, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is Ocean Vuong's debut novel. Written in the style of an epistolary novel—a letter from a young Vietnamese-American man (Little Dog) to his older, illiterate mother (Rose)—the novel explores such themes as love, trauma, familial history, masculinity, and sexuality.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous has received extraordinary praise upon release with a few mixed reviews. While Ron Charles of The Washington Post hailed the novel “a lyrical work of self-discovery that’s shockingly intimate and insistently universal… Not so much briefly gorgeous as permanently stunning,” Dwight Gardener of The New York Times described the novel in lukewarm terms, saying "Vuong's writing about nail salons, and the way mothers raised their children in them, is moving and rarely less than excellent." The novel's range of responses is a testament to the challenges of reading On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous and the kinds of questions it asks of its reader—that is, the nature of failure and the phenomenology of reading itself. What does it mean to write a letter to someone who cannot read it? What does it mean for communication to fail? The novel is flourished with figurative tropes, meta-textual analyses of language, and brilliant profundities.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous spent six weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, which is, in many ways, a welcome reminder and powerful testimony of the indelible impact Vuong's text has left on the American literary landscape of the twenty-first century.