FICTION

Cleanness

Farrar. Jan. 2020. 240p. ISBN 9780374124588. $26. F
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Following Greenwell’s highly acclaimed first novel, What Belongs to You, this new work offers a set of linked short stories focusing on a young, gay American literature teacher in crumbling, post-Soviet Bulgaria during his last year before returning home. In “Mentor,” the opening story, listening to the angst-ridden outpourings of one of his students about his sexual desires leads the protagonist to bittersweet reflections on how one’s sense of self is diminished with experience and loss. The fiercely raw “Gospodar” and “Little Saint,” which appear at opposite ends of the book, recount brutal, sadomasochistic encounters from opposite perspectives. “Loving R.,” the book’s middle section and in many ways its heart, comprises three stories that trace the arc of a relationship between the teacher and one of his former students. Greenwell is an exquisite writer who can capture a scene with great nuance or evoke an emotion with depth and power. In this ultimately inner-facing work, he maps the landscapes of the heart through the pleasure and pain of relationships and the intersections of love and violence.
VERDICT Covering similar emotional ground, this heartfelt work is a worthy successor to Greenwell’s extraordinary debut. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/19.]

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