The cat’s out to play.”. Both Trevor and Little Dog come from the poorer parts of Hartford, and together they seem to cover every corner of the city. To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. And it really asks, “Is it worth it?” I wrote a lot of this novel during the election cycle that led to Trump’s inauguration. In some cases, when men are talking to each other, women aren’t supposed to even be in the room. Ocean Vuong at home in Northampton, Massachusetts. To that point, Vuong’s relationships had been largely dysfunctional, “bad, bad relationships in almost this cliched trope of seeing what’s familiar in violent, self-destructive folks”. At the time, however, he was shocked and disappointed. The hardwood dotted with blood.” And, “the time with a gallon of milk. Maybe that’s why I wrote so much of it at night. Often it’s the women who clean up, psychologically, emotionally, physically. A parent will say to me: “my future Pulitzer winner!” and I just groan. Since I’m teaching at UMass, I made a pilgrimage to Herman Melville’s house, not far from here, and I reread Moby Dick. Vuong, who is 30, was not from a background from which writers traditionally emerge. I spoke with Vuong by phone about exploring American identity and masculinity from new points of view. These days, if any of his upper-middle-class students grouse that they don’t have a good backstory, he mildly points out that Virginia Woolf got one of the best novels ever written out of someone basically crossing a lawn. “The great male writers of the European tradition, be it Proust, Tolstoy, Turgenev, deemed that those most inspiring to them existed in a white aristocracy,” he says. And so everybody’s in a queue and one thing that happens is that you’re in a cultural time warp. The book has a poetic density that is at once elliptical and unflinching in its gaze, a testimony to the endlessly complicated dynamics of damage. And they all really did it.”. Peter, his partner of 10 years, has taken the dog out. He wanted to make his mother happy. It was almost intoxicating for them to create a mythology of their lives, because they were so powerless. And I said: oh, I’m not in an MFA [master of fine arts]. You wait. He wondered if he’d made a terrible mistake. Night Sky With Exit Wounds, published when he was 27, and which “took off in ways that no poet ever suspects will happen, and should not expect again”, dared to imagine scenes in which brutality and sensuality combined. We should’ve been gone up in smoke. It might have been the Gay Adolescent Love novel or the Violent Childhood novel, all themes that are touched upon lightly while still assuming a fully weighted presence in the narrative. But when it was time to tell the story, they held everything.”, Vuong had no context for what he was hearing. I beg my students to do it, because everything that they’re feeling, Sylvia Plath felt 70 years ago. In a way it’s inevitable that we arrive at toxic masculinity when so much of masculinity has stripped the humanness from the men and boys who grow up in this country. I was a teacher and I was supposed to say to my students, “Poetry is worth it.” And I didn’t know if it was myself. All the way back to Melville, Salinger, Hemingway, Annie Dillard—all of these folks were asking, “What does American identity mean?” We’ve been looking at America as a sculpture for nearly 250 years and we’ve had one angle. In both, Vuong’s ultimate aim was to dignify the experiences of his childhood with the solemn, years-long gaze of the novelist. When I got a writing residency in Italy, I brought my laptop and was all ready to start. During the day, he studied literature at Brooklyn College and worked in a cafe. “Sometimes being offered tenderness,” writes Vuong, “feels like the very proof that you’ve been ruined.”, Vuong grew up in a world in which he was marginalised across every axis – class, race, sexuality. To say women have been doing this and they’re not necessarily these heroic legends. It is fluid, moving the way thought moves, in circles not lines, and written in the form of a letter to Little Dog’s mother that he knows she’ll never read. I wanted to write a book that was centered around these women, but in doing so throw into relief the men who create and participate in war. Anger is energy – you can get a lot done with anger; you can write multiple books. Buying a dress from the Salvation Army, his mother asks Little Dog to read the label and find out, “is it fireproof?” In the family mythology, Vuong was the single last hope of these indestructible women and when, in the mid-2000s, Hartford was hit by the opioid epidemic, it’s the thing that stopped him from leaning towards drugs. But there was something else going on, too. Honestly if I knew it was this challenging, I might not have done it. Get the latest chatter, from Kensington Palace and beyond, straight to your inbox. You can see them from all their angles.” It’s the wisdom of his life. He thinks of something she said to him when he first left for New York. So through cycles of these stories, that world started opening and as a child I would ask: what’s napalm? We’ve read those books and you realise as you’re reading them: oh, this is not for me. You want to file for sexual assault? It’s their own project. Vuong is slight, with a silver earring in one ear and the habit of pushing his tortoiseshell glasses up his nose. Do you feel a special connection to these writers who have also explored issues of American history and identity in new and personal ways? And I thought, I can’t die. “I didn’t know this until I talked to other Vietnamese-Americans – that it was rare for families to talk about the war,” he says. It wasn’t just the sense of isolation that comes from being the only one awake, when “you look out of the window and it’s completely dark and you’re at sea in this little ship”. “Nobody hides themselves from a fool.”, • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is published by Jonathan Cape (£12.99). What’s the mental cost of the women who do these extraordinary things? © 2020 Condé Nast. It is easy to imagine a bad version of this novel in which any one of its preoccupations might have overgrown to capsize it. But although they were shocked, they had a very practical way of looking at things. Partly it came out of boredom. As Turgenev looked at the crumbling Russian empire, I look at these folks in a different crumbling empire and deemed that these are inspiring lives to an artist.”, He also wanted to say something about where the cost of war falls, not from the vantage point of the grand historical epic, but from inside the small, cramped sadness of a house still flattened decades after the conflict has ended. Because they were also dying, in a different way: financially, mentally. Yes, it was informed a lot by Roland Barthes—a queer literary theorist—and his writing about his mother, about negotiating love and distance with a mother. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement (updated 1/1/20) and Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement (updated 1/1/20) and Your California Privacy Rights.

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