Bleak is Beautiful
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Published in: January-February 2016 issue.


What Belongs to YouWhat Belongs to You
by Garth Greenwell
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
208 pages, $23.


GARTH GREENWELL is a poet and beginning novelist whose critically acclaimed novella Mitko came out in 2011. Psychologically penetrating and emotionally searing, Mitko is a taut portrait of the relationship between the book’s title character, a Bulgarian hustler, and an American college professor who teaches English at a prestigious university in the Bulgarian city of Sofia. Greenwell’s new novel, What Belongs to You, expands upon the story of Mitko. Of the book’s three parts, “Mitko,” part one, is a revised version of the original novella. Part two, “A Grave,” is an astonishing 42-page-long continuous paragraph that unravels the mystery of the narrator’s familial estrangement like an epic prose poem. Part three, “Pox,” takes the relationship between the two main characters to its inexorable conclusion.

When the book opens, the unnamed narrator and Mitko meet for the first time in a cruisy Bulgarian men’s room, where unheeded red flags set the stage for the unsparing drama that’s about to unfold:

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