cover image What Belongs to You

What Belongs to You

Garth Greenwell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (208p) ISBN 978-0-374-28822-8

With detailed prose, Greenwell’s debut relays the story of an unnamed American college professor, living and teaching in Bulgaria, who develops a sexual relationship with a nomadic male prostitute named Mitko. Initially meeting in public bathroom stalls at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, the pair shift their dates to the professor’s apartment and eventually decide to travel to Varna, Mitko’s hometown on the Black Sea, for a brief respite. However, Mitko’s violent side leaves Greenwell’s protagonist afraid for his own safety. The two part ways, and years pass before Mitko, ravaged by time and homelessness, reenters the professor’s life. Now in a committed long-distance relationship, the instructor battles his erotic yearning and faces increasing discomfort around his former lover, suspecting the prostitute’s acts of kindness and care are nothing more than a lure for financial support. The book breaks up the adult protagonist’s story with a long middle section devoted to exploring the professor’s difficult childhood, as well as his first love, and it is here that the man’s struggles—sexual and emotional—come alive. Greenwell’s novel is a brave and articulate psychological exploration of lust and desire, and though his rich language often carries the book (rather than the plot), the carnal pain on display is striking. (Jan.)