Dustin Illingworth at The Baffler:
THE BEAUTY of Garth Greenwell’s sentences belies the disfiguring forces they harbor. As a writer, he is something like a poet-flagellant, suited to painful, precarious states; exquisite hungers and humiliations; the papered-over chasms of desire. Like the work of Jean Genet before him, Greenwell transforms individual appetites into expressions of unlikely commonality. His fictions depict moments of epiphanic desperation—shame, pleasure, remorse, and ecstasy—in which the mysteries of spirit and flesh are rendered briefly legible.
In his acclaimed debut, What Belongs to You, a nameless American teacher navigates a tangled, transactional relationship with a charismatic street hustler in Sofia, Bulgaria. While it isn’t stated explicitly, there is much to suggest that this protagonist reprises his role in Greenwell’s second book, Cleanness, which likewise features an expatriate teacher in the Bulgarian capital.