In an atmosphere of disquiet in Sofia, Bulgaria, 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.
... incandescent ... Anyone who read Greenwell’s first novel, What Belongs to You (2016), knows that his writing about sex is altogether scorching. You pick his novels up with asbestos mitts, and set them down upon trivets to protect your table from heat damage ... There’s a moral quality to these extended sessions. In bed is where Greenwell’s men work out and reveal the essences of their personalities ... Carnal moments are accelerants; they’re where Greenwell’s existential and political themes are underlined, then set ablaze ... a better, richer, more confident novel. You intuit its seriousness and grace from its first pages. It’s a novel in search of ravishment ... Greenwell is a sensitive writer about the student-teacher relationship ... Greenwell has an uncanny gift, one that comes along rarely. Every detail in every scene glows with meaning. It’s as if, while other writers offer data, he is providing metadata ... This novel’s second half is not quite the equal of its first. Some scenes end rather than resolve. Greenwell is a brooder. You begin to wonder how his humorlessness will wear over time ... Yet there are no failures of equilibrium. This writer’s sentences are so dazzlingly fresh that it as if he has thrown his cape in the street in front of each one. Greenwell offers restraint in service of release. He catches you up so effortlessly that you feel you are in the hands of one of those animals that anesthetizes you before devouring you.
... an arresting novel ... an electrifying portrait of sex’s power to lacerate and liberate, to make and unmake our deepest selves. The book arrives amid a wave of mainstream interest in the erotic lives of gay men, but its frank exploration of kink, loneliness, shame, and dark pleasures hearkens back to a less carefree period—as though to restore a charge of risk and consequence to queer sex in the era of corporate pride and Call Me by Your Name ... self-reflexive in outlook, as concerned with the purpose of passion as with its fulfillment ... The book’s sex scenes unfold like revelations, effortlessly braiding inner drama with precisely choreographed intimacy. Greenwell’s long, luxuriously becomma’d sentences, always on the edge of ending, create a tension receptive to the lightest touch: a shift in rhythm, or one clause’s tiny revision of its predecessor, can entirely alter the chemistry of a scene. He melds an incantatory cadence with the catechistic language of porn, which is ridiculous until you’re 'lit up with a longing that makes it the most beautiful language in the world' ... Bulgaria itself provides a less stimulating backdrop. Too often, Greenwell aligns the narrator’s angst with its vaguely sketched political malaise, as though the nation, too, feels trapped between a repressive status quo and libidinal chaos ... Despite his seven years in Bulgaria, the narrator remains a self-conscious interloper, and the scene a perfunctory engagement with circumstances that might have added dimension to Greenwell’s otherwise intimately powerful work.
... exquisite ... Greenwell displays a precocious ability to take readers into his narrator's mind and body ... Greenwell submerges readers in the bedroom, sharing his protagonist's intense attractions and doubts ... expertly rendered flashbacks ... Greenwell's backward glance, humming with insight. The book traverses an arc that is part heartbreaking and part forward looking ... Greenwell's prose sings, even as much of the music occurs in the rests. This writer understands beauty and loss, sorrow and hope, his fluid writing making the telling seem effortless.