Do you think the form of the letter is an effective narrative strategy? How would the novel change if it was not written as a letter?
The epistolary novel can be quite a perplexing genre and form of writing: not only does the letter inherently posit an assumed audience but it also suggests that letter has a kind of permanence while at the same time ephemerally produced. The letter for Vuong's novel is effective insofar as it both allows us to mark the audience of the novel and its very genre is subverted—that is, the way we come to understand the mechanics of a letter (i.e., that it is written for someone else and that it will be read) is upended and rendered defunct in the novel. Though we learn that Little Dog is writing the novel for his mother, he states later in the novel that he is partly writing for himself. Moreover, though Little Dog is writing a letter that also doubles as a confession, we learn immediately that Little Dog's mother cannot read; as such, the contents of the letter will never be known. These facts allows us to pry open questions of transmission and what it means to attempt to convey knowledge that will never be received (though of course we know that there is the potential and possibility for Little Dog's mother to learn English so there is a sense of futurity in the novel's end). If the novel were not written in letter form, we wouldn't be able to grapple with the mother-son relationship as closely nor attend to questions of transmission and the limitations of language.
Why do you think Little Dog decided to write the letter?
Little Dog states that he decided to write the letter partly for himself, so he could grapple with central questions of belonging, identity, queerness, and masculinity that he's been wrestling with for his own life. However, at the same time, the letter becomes a kind of confession that lets him free himself from the weight of untold and overlooked history. Writing the letter almost becomes therapeutic; it also functions as an ode to his mother and his loved ones.
What do you make of the title? What is the relationship between beauty and time?
The title suggests that beauty is ephemeral, locally produced and sustained only in memory. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous marks a tense relationship between the nature of beauty and time (and, by extension, memory). In other words, one of Vuong's central questions of the book is how we are to understand beauty through that which is not typically figured as beautiful and how does the memory of beauty persist when beauty itself is so fleeting.
What do you make of Little Dog's relationship with Trevor? How are we made to think about sexuality and homosexuality through their relationship and intimacy?
Little Dog's relationship with Trevor becomes a significant moment in Little Dog's romantic, sexual, and social blossoming. Though his relationship with Trevor is made incredibly complex by moments of tenderness, violence, and internalized homophobia, Little Dog comes to understand more of himself and the ever-shifting nature of love and intimacy. As one example, Little Dog briefly comes to understand that pain and a bit of violence is linked with sexual intimacy and pleasure though Trevor. And though that is a problematic formulation, it speaks to the ways in which young queer boys come to understand their own sexuality under the pressures society imposes on men and masculinity more broadly.
Why do you think Rose laughs at the end of the novel?
In the last sentence of the novel, Little Dog states, "for no reason at all, you start to laugh"; yet, there is a reason. One could argue that Rose laughs at the end of the novel because she simply found what she said about not being caught humorous. Nonetheless, the laugh itself is incredibly opaque: while it could just be figured as humor, the laugh could be laced with pain, which returns us to the recurring conceit of the novel—the coupling of pain and beauty. Though much attention is given to the fact that she laughed, asking this question is really another way of asking why Little Dog is both drawn to her laugh and concludes the novel with it.