It’s the start of a new year, and with that comes resolutions. One of mine? To read more adult fiction. So it’s probably a good thing I’ve been stocking up on it for the last couple of years. One of the first books I purchased toward that end was Garth Greenwell’s debut, What Belongs to You, about an American teacher who begins an illicit affair with a Bulgarian hustler he meets and pays for sex in the well-hidden bathrooms under Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. Those who actually read my intros to these posts know I vastly prefer to have read a book before featuring it, but Greenwell’s sophomore, Cleanness, releases on the 14th of this month, so what better time to draw attention? (Plus it was lauded by pretty much every reviewer on the planet, so do you really need to take my word for it?) Come join me in reading it this month!
On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and disease.