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Garth Greenwell’s illuminating story collection seems to share a narrator and a setting with his beloved debut novel from 2016: a gay American teacher in the capital of Bulgaria, a place still unaccepting of the love he seeks and, at least fleetingly, finds. Greenwell told the New York Times that with Cleanness he aimed to write “something that was 100% pornographic and 100% high art”—using the exposure inherent in sex to lay bare life’s dynamics. Also a poet, Greenwell precisely details in his stories the physicality and power at play in S&M and the questions that linger after abuse, as well as the epiphanies found while snuggling a lover: “They could make a whole life, I thought, surprised to think it, these moments that filled me up with sweetness, that had changed the texture of existence for me.”

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