Garth Greenwell Comes Clean – The New York Times

“For me, it was the literary event of the year,” said Dimiter Kenarov, a journalist in Bulgaria who has become a close friend of Greenwell’s. “Sometimes when foreigners come in, their vision of Bulgaria is very skewed, and the place is either romanticized or demonized. But Garth’s writing presents the city I live in and the culture I live in so objectively and so humbly, with a real sense of depth. It’s almost like I’ve been asleep in a city that he awakens me to.”

By the time “What Belongs to You” was published, Greenwell had already completed four sections of what would become “Cleanness.” From the start, he said, both books were “one project,” though the world of his newer one is more expansive.

Physical gestures are enormously significant, each movement a germ of drama and scrutiny. “He’ll make an assertion,” White said, “then question it and turn it over and massage it.” These passages in particular evoke Greenwell’s former lives within his current prose: poetic lyricism, and comma splices deployed like musical phrasing.

Two chapters in “Cleanness” recount sexual encounters with unrelenting candor and earnestness. Greenwell said that he doesn’t often give himself assignments but that here he wanted “to write something that was 100 percent pornographic and 100 percent high art.”

Often, he said, pornography goes to great lengths to “expunge personhood” from people’s bodies. He aimed to do the opposite, to show intimacy while exploring the ways in which S&M encounters make representations of power visible, and therefore malleable.

Greenwell’s frankness in writing about sex has made for uncomfortable encounters with fans. Because he bears a resemblance to his protagonist, they often assume his writing is autobiographical. (It’s not.) Someone once showed him a Facebook profile and asked whether it was one of his characters, and he has been sent explicit photos on social media.

In reality, Greenwell doesn’t volunteer conversations about sex. He presents more modestly, and lives a settled-down life with his partner, the poet Luis Muñoz, who runs the Spanish-language M.F.A. program at the University of Iowa.

The article was originally published by Newyorktimes

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