Little Dog is the narrator and protagonist of the story. He describes himself as “twenty-eight years old, 5ft 4in tall, 112lbs, handsome at exactly three angles and deadly from everywhere else.” As a child, he frequently experiences physical abuse by his mother. Though the relationship between Little Dog and his mother remain fraught, their bond is strong and unwavering, and it is through their relationship that we come to new understandings of history, trauma, and death. At the age of 14, Little Dog begins to work on a tobacco farm, where he meets Trevor and begins to explore his sexuality. Eventually, Little Dog leaves the small town of Hartford to attend university and pursue a career in writing in New York City.
Little Dog's Mother, Rose
Little Dog’s mother is an immigrant from Vietnam who strives to assimilate into American society. She speaks little English and is unable to read. She works in a nail salon and struggles to provide the best for her son Little Dog despite low pay. She suffers from war-time traumas and often physically harms her son as a result. Moreover, she experiences domestic violence for a brief period of time. Rose ultimately wants what is best for her son and is fearful that harm will come to him if he is not cautious.
Lan is Little Dog’s grandmother. She has been traumatized by the war, though its painful memories antagonize her sporadically. When she relives the memories of a mortar attack after hearing fireworks outside, for example, there are moments in which she is able to ignore the sound of gunshots. Because she experienced the scarcity of resources during the war, she teaches Little Dog not to be wasteful. After leaving her first husband from an arranged marriage, she meets an American serviceman named Paul and marries him. Their union is short-lived because Paul returns to the United States after his mother tells him that she has TBC. She dies of bone cancer in the presence of her family.
Paul used to be Lan's lover. He met Lan in 1967, while stationed in Cam Ranh Bay with the U.S. Navy. They met at a bar in Saigon, and married a year later in the city’s central courthouse. His mother faked a TBC infection so he would have to come home and leave Lan behind. After that, he lost track of Lan and married another woman. Little Dog told him of Lan's death after her passing.
Mai is Little Dog’s aunt.
Trevor works on the tobacco farm with Little Dog to escape his alcoholic father. It is implied that Little Dog was his first intimate relationship with a man. He and Little Dog enter a romantic relationship and explore their sexuality together. From Trevor, Little Dog comes to excavate new meanings about masculinity, pleasure, love, and intimacy.
After breaking his ankle while riding his dirt bike at the age of fifteen, he is put on OxyContin, to which he quickly becomes addicted. He wanted to go to community college to study physical therapy, but he eventually overdoses at the age of 22.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.