Discussed in this essay:
Cleanness, by Garth Greenwell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 240 pages. $26.
Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War, by Vincent Brown. Harvard University Press. 336 pages. $35.
Of Morsels and Marvels, by Maryse Condé. Translated by Richard Philcox. Seagull Books. 324 pages. $27.50
There’s a lot of crying and cumming in Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26), an arresting novel that revolves, title notwithstanding, around the upheaval and mess of desire. Set in Bulgaria, where an expatriate teacher finds himself caught between a strained relationship and the lure of one-off S-and-M hookups, it’s 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.