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Publisher's Summary

"Garth Greenwell's superb narration makes a powerful case for authors reading their own work. This bleak, honest novel is about the impossibility of knowing all the complicated truths of a person. Though the novel includes dialogue, Greenwell doesn't alter his voice as he shifts between characters, a choice that adds to the intensity and power of the first-person point of view." (BookTrib

This program is read by the author.

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. 

©2020 Garth Greenwell (P)2020 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

Esquire Magazine Best Books of the Year, 2020

Time Magazine Best Books of the Year, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, 2020

The Telegraph (UK) Best Books of the Year, 2020

New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year, 2020

New Yorker Best Books of the Year, 2020

NPR Best Book of the Year, 2020

What listeners say about Cleanness

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

And they said gay fiction with psychological depth couldn’t be done.

But be advised that Greenwell’s depths are mostly cloudy with only occasional patches of sun. More troubling though is that the unnamed narrator never seems to learn anything from his mistakes. No plot points are digressions merely because there is no character arc to digress from. Sex happens, a lover comes and goes, attractions grow and then fizzle out, but for the narrator they are all equally uninstructive. For this reason Greenwell’s previous book What Belongs to You, also set in Sofia, Bulgaria is more satisfying because even though the narrator takes only a few hesitant baby steps towards self-knowledge, the story is really about Mitko, who, though sad, does have a substantial story.

2 people found this helpful

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Loved his debut novel, this feels like notes for a money grab

If you were entranced by Garth Greenwell’s riveting debut novel, ‘What Belongs To You’, I recommend rereading it rather than reaching for Cleanness.
I’m a fan. I wanted to love it. The blurbs and accolades seem to be based on the first two chapters, which is typically all they read. But this effort is clearly notes and diaries that didn’t make the first cut or worse: an FSG money grab for the obsessive fans to purchase the follow up to his stunning debut.

I don’t know why they do this to such promising writers, but the market seems to demand another masterpiece ASAP.
The first novel feels like prose poems that took a decade to assemble. Cleanness is morose and rambling.

There are moments here that feel like a soap opera dashed off during vacation or worse: awkward marriage porn after stories of an adolescent erosion of trust and molestation.

1 person found this helpful

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Disconnected

Disjointed. A series of stories that are un connected. Gratuitous sex scenes which serve no purpose in the story. What’s with only using one initial?

1 person found this helpful

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Trust your Intuition.

Did not enjoy the stories as much as his first. Wish I would have gone with my gut impression with the sample , but a glowing review in NYT Book Review influenced me to read it.

1 person found this helpful

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Great narrator.

Last few sentences were quite good. Enjoyed some of the characters very much while some characters felt stereotypical. Narrator was very good.

1 person found this helpful

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I miss the days when gay meant happy...

...but we’ve achieved peak misery with everyone else. And Greenwell is lyrical in his invocation of yearning unhappiness. This book reminded me Dale Peck’s Martin and John.

1 person found this helpful

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honest and heartfelt

I enjoyed Greenwell’s first novel and these stories continue the theme of an expat in Bulgaria dealing with cross cultural relationships and sex. Liked the author’s delivery—compelling but not overly dramatic.

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Well written, but...

This book was tough to get through. It is a very detailed view of the inner life of a high school English teacher teaching in Bulgaria. The author uses his encounters with various men (who are invariably unavailable to him in one way or another) as an avenue towards self knowledge. There are extremely lengthy and extremely graphic descriptions of sexual encounters with his various partners. In the beginning the narrator is something of a doormat, but towards the end he is the cruel dominatrix only to sob after the encounter in which he beats his partner with a belt. I found the narrator to be so self absorbed - dwelling on every tiny feeling he is experiencing - that it began to annoy me. And then it just became boring. Fine reading of this book even though I have probably missed the point of it.

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Waste of time

I kept waiting for a story and character development. I was not rewarded for my time.