Q&A with Garth Greenwell: ‘Cleanness’ and Finding Beauty on the Margins

by Chia-Chia Lin

Garth Greenwell’s celebrated new book, Cleanness (FSG; 240 pages), which follows a gay teacher searching for intimacy and purpose in Bulgaria, is both quiet and explosive. Wherever Greenwell’s attention lands—a hushed conversation, a sexual encounter, a political protest—there’s heat and urgency and a concentrated, almost unbearable feeling of aliveness. Much has been said about the sex scenes in Cleanness; Sheila Heti wrote, “Most American literature seems neutered by comparison.” And it’s true, where so many writers fail or grasp for clichés or simply give up and elide the act of sex, Greenwell zooms in and stays. And stays and stays. […]

Continue Reading