Cleanness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
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
“I don't know how Garth Greenwell writes such delicate, profane fiction. These stories are grace and salt, tenderness and shadow. Reading this book made me want to sit with my emotions and desires; it made me want to be a better writer.”—Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties and In the Dream House
“Cleanness is stunning, provocatively revelatory and atmospherically profound. Here is love and sex as art, as pulse, as truth.”—Lisa Taddeo, author of Three Women
“Garth Greenwell, whose first book is a masterpiece, amazingly has written a second book that is also a masterpiece. The great enterprise that Joyce and Lawrence began—to write with utter literal candor about sex, grounding one’s moral life and philosophical insight in what that candor reveals about us—finds fulfillment, a late apotheosis, in Greenwell’s work. Cleanness is the act of a master.”—Frank Bidart, author of Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016
“Garth Greenwell is an intensely beautiful and gorgeous writer. I can think of no contemporary author who brings as much reality and honesty to the description of sex—locating in it the sublime, as well as our deepest degradation, sweetness, confusion, and rage. Most American literature seems neutered by comparison. His perfect noticing extends to the way we experience love and loneliness, the feeling of exile, and the eternal search for home.”—Sheila Heti, author of Motherhood
“Cleanness is an impressive book: moving, radical, both beautiful and violent, unexpected. Garth Greenwell is a major writer, and his writing provides us tools to affirm ourselves, to exist— to fight.” —Édouard Louis, author of The End of Eddy
“So rarely do words make comprehensible the inevitability and confusion of desire as Garth Greenwell’s writing does. His sensibility is akin to James Baldwin’s, and he observes the world with eyes like those of Tolstoy. With shimmering prose and undiluted intensity, Cleanness captures the indefinableness of pain and intimacy, love and alienation, vulnerability and sustainability.”—Yiyun Li, author of Where Reasons End
“In Cleanness, I found an end to a loneliness I didn't know—until now—how to describe. Greenwell maps the worlds our language walls off—sex, love, shame and friendship, the foreign and the familiar—and finds the sublime. There are visceral shocks like I’ve never encountered in print, and they delighted me, again and again. With each plunge we take beneath the surface of life, lost and new worlds appear. This could only be the work of a master.”—Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Garth Greenwell’s sentences are magical and spellbinding. They breathe, and are alive, in completely unpredictable ways. Words are voyages, says John Donne. Greenwell is a novelist whose art makes a poet stand on his toes.” —Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
“Cleanness reaches into the relationship between masculinity and violence with more depth than any book I’ve read in a very long time, and it does so by elaborating both the tender and brutal means that men who try to love other men employ to survive the violence they inherited and the violence they still possess. It is, in the best sense, a disturbing book for the simple reason that it speaks the truth.”—Adam Haslett, author of Imagine Me Gone
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 Yorker, The Paris Review, A Public Space, and VICE, and he has written criticism for The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and The New York Times Book Review, among other publications. Farrar, Straus and Giroux will publish his newest book, Cleanness, in January 2020. He lives in Iowa City.
Garth Greenwell photo by Oriette D'Angelo
Sam Lansky is the West Coast Editor of Time magazine and the author of The Gilded Razor: A Memoir (2016) and the forthcoming novel Broken People (2020).