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Cleanness by Garth Greenwell

Garth Greenwell Cleanness book cover

In the highly anticipated follow-up to his beloved debut, What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell deepens his exploration of foreignness, obligation, and desire Sofia, Bulgaria, a landlocked city in southern Europe, stirs with hope and impending upheaval. Soviet buildings crumble, wind scatters sand from the far south, and political protesters flood the streets with song.

In this atmosphere of disquiet, an American teacher navigates a life transformed by the discovery and loss of love. As he prepares to leave the place he’s come to call home, he grapples with the intimate encounters that have marked his years abroad, each bearing uncanny reminders of his past. A queer student’s confession recalls his own first love, a stranger’s seduction devolves into paternal sadism, and a romance with another foreigner opens, and heals, old wounds. Each echo reveals startling insights about what it means to seek connection: with those we love, with the places we inhabit, and with our own fugitive selves.

Cleanness revisits and expands the world of Garth Greenwell’s beloved debut, What Belongs to You, declared “an instant classic” by The New York Times Book Review. In exacting, elegant prose, he transcribes the strange dialects of desire, cementing his stature as one of our most vital living writers.

Praise for Cleanness

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2020 by The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Oprah Magazine, Salon, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The AV Club, InsideHook, The Chicago Review of Books, and The Rumpus

“Incandescent … Greenwell has an uncanny gift, one that comes along rarely. Every detail in every scene [of Cleanness] glows with meaning. It’s as if, while other writers offer data, he is providing metadata … This writer’s sentences are so dazzlingly fresh that it as if he has thrown his cape in the street in front of each one.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

“Extraordinary … The overall effect is even more impressive than [What Belongs to You] … The range in these stories is part of their triumph and part of what makes their existential sorrow so profound … Incomparably bittersweet … Brilliant.”
―Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which won the British Book Award for Debut of the Year, was long-listed for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for six other awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, it was named a Best Book of 2016 by more than fifty publications in nine countries, and is being translated into a dozen languages. Greenwell’s fiction has appeared in The New YorkerThe Paris ReviewA Public Space, and VICE, and he has written criticism for The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and New York Times Book Review, among other publications. He lives in Iowa City.

Garth Greenwell Recommends: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford

I’ve only recently discovered the fiction of Jean Stafford―for too long, I’m ashamed to admit, I knew her only as Robert Lowell’s first wife―and I have a convert’s enthusiasm. Stafford wrote three novels―two of which, The Mountain Lion and The Catherine Wheel, are masterpieces―but it’s her Collected Stories that gives the broadest sense of her genius. Stafford’s favorite writers were Henry James and Mark Twain, and at her best―a mark she hits discouragingly often―she somehow manages to combine the mandarin, ornate psychological precision of the one with the humor and forthrightness of the other. I love Stafford’s sentences, which are often delicate, baroque, extravagant, and her devotion to nearly-lost words. I love more the perfect balance she strikes in her best stories―”The Tea Time of Stouthearted Ladies,” “Life is No Abyss,” “Children Are Bored on Sundays,” and “Cops and Robbers,” among many others―between lambent sympathy for her characters and an absolute ruthlessness in dissecting their illusions. For all her humor, Stafford is a singularly discomfiting writer, entirely unconcerned with flattering our sensibilities. She is a genius, and she deserves to be much more widely read.

Garth Greenwell reads “The Shorn Lamb” by  Jean Stafford on The New Yorker Radio Hour. Listen at their website.


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