Harvard Book Store welcomes acclaimed novelist GARTH GREENWELL—author of the award-winning What Belongs to You—for a discussion of his latest, highly-anticipated second novel, Cleanness. He will be joined in conversation by celebrated author STEPHEN MCCAULEY.
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.
“If Henry James were alive in this strange century, if Thomas Mann had been allowed to write raw sex, if Virginia Woolf had slummed it more, if Proust had been born in Kentucky, if they all commingled their blood and brains, we might get something like Garth Greenwell. Cleannesslives between Europe and America, between novel and story, between fiction and the self. It is indescribable, and it is genius.” —Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers
“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
“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, Cleannesscaptures the indefinableness of pain and intimacy, love and alienation, vulnerability and sustainability.” —Yiyun Li, author of Where Reasons End
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.