Cleanness

Garth Greenwell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-12458-8
A young American teacher’s reckonings with intimacy and alienation compose the through line of Greenwell’s elegant and melancholy volume (after What Belongs to You). Nine stories track the unnamed narrator, who teaches literature in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. Documenting the narrator’s relationship with R., a Portuguese university student, and its dissolution, the stories are touchstones in his emotional development, from an attempt to shepherd a student through the crisis of first love in “Mentor,” to an encounter with homophobia in the midst of an outpouring of national solidarity in “Decent People.” As the teacher’s hopes of a life with R. fade, he returns to sex with men he meets online, which proves both dangerous, as in the chilling “Gospodar,” and revelatory, as in his encounter with the self-abnegation of the young man he calls Svetcheto, “Little Saint.” Unresolved regarding his own character, “how little sense of myself I have, how there was no end to what I could want or to the punishment I would seek,” the narrator struggles to guide the young people he teaches, conscious of the chasm of experience and expectation between them. Greenwell writes about sex as a mercurial series of emotional states and is lyrical and precise in his descriptions of desires and motivations he suggests are not subject to control or understanding. This is a piercingly observant and meticulously reflective narrative. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/02/2019
Release date: 01/14/2020
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-1-250-78566-4
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