(K. Brent Tomer),
What Belongs to You. By Garth Greenwell. Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 194 pages; $23. To be published in Britain by Picador in April.
A YOUNG American teacher working in post-Soviet Bulgaria encounters a seductive hustler in the men’s room of the National Palace of Culture. Mitko is slender and beautiful, utterly at ease yet achingly remote. What follows is the poignant story of the two men’s unequal dance of need and longing. “What Belongs to You”, a first novel by Garth Greenwell, an American writer with a growing reputation, is a sensitive, almost nostalgic, meditation on desire.
The strength of this slim book is the vibrant, heartbreaking character Mr Greenwell creates in Mitko: object of the unnamed narrator’s desire, fear, obsession and, ultimately, pity. He is a sweet, increasingly desperate product of a broken country, a child of the East who sells sex to survive. Mitko’s attractiveness stems as much from “a kind of bodily sureness or ease that suggested freedom from doubts and self-gnawing” as from his brazen sexuality. Throughout their brief relationship, the narrator minutely observes both Mitko and his country, as well as his own past. Yet he remains opaque, as estranged from the reader as he is from himself.
This alienation, the narrator reveals, is rooted in early experiences of rejection for…Continue reading