Raw, brutal and yes, at times gorgeous, poet Ocean Vuong’s novel is a stunning debut that draws upon his strength with language to tell the sto
ry of Little Dog and by necessity, the stories of his family and his first love.
Little Dog is writing with some unexplained
urgency a letter to his mother, despite her inability to read it. While unflinchingly confronting her violent outbursts toward him, the novel still manages to read like a love letter in its fairness and tenderness.
Little Dog draws upon his origins, his family history and the memory of his first love to find the words to explain something about himself to his mother. War, immigration, poverty, violence, addiction and grief are the forces surrounding their lives that make small flashes of beauty like the cluster of violets over a chain link fence, his grandmother’s tender care after a run-in with bullies or the shape of his lover’s scar pop in stark contrast.
While I found the pacing a bit uneven, I simply can’t deny the beauty and grit of Vuong’s prose, palpable with emotion and realistic details. This is a book I will recommend to adult readers. (Content warning: graphic sexual content, violence and drug use.)