Friday, January 13, 2023

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell


In this book of interconnected stories, a young man is in Sophia, Bulgaria where he is a teacher in a high school.  He has come from the United States as a transfer teacher to experience another culture and to expose his students to English.  His time in Bulgaria is coming to a close and he looks back on the relationships he has formed there.

The teacher is gay and many of his relationships are short term lovers.  In some, he is the submissive partner while in others he is dominant.  In two related stories, he talks about his most important relationship.  He falls in love with a graduate student who is also in Bulgaria although from Portugal.  They have a long-term relationship and hope to build a life together but in the end, the other man cannot find work in Bulgaria and the teacher isn't successful finding work in Portugal and the relationship falls apart.

This book isn't for everyone.  It won many prizes, including a New York Times Notable Book Award, a best book of the year award from NPR, the New Yorker, Time and the Washington Post as well as being longlisted for prizes such as the Joyce Carol Oates Prize and the Prix Sade.  The sex scenes between the man and his lovers are quite graphic and some readers might not appreciate that.  But it explores the loneliness of those who are trying to make a home away from what they have known and the different types of relationships that might exist for those looking for a love to sustain them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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