Garth Greenwell: 'Sex is an extraordinary subject for a writer'

The US author on writing about intimacy, the place for pretentiousness in art and surviving lockdown Garth Greenwell’s second book, Cleanness , seems to flow directly from his sumptuous, sensuous debut, What Belongs to You . Like its predecessor, the new work concerns an unnamed American teacher working in Sofia who falls in love with a man who brings him both great pleasure and pain. The book is structured as nine interlinked stories, centred around the narrator’s affair with a man known only as R. The stories are not arranged chronologically but, rather, radiate out from the three middle chapters, which focus most directly on R. Greenwell is in Iowa City when we speak on the telephone – he is a visiting lecturer at the renowned Writers’ Workshop there. Do you think of this book as a novel or a collection of short stories? None of the available labels feels to me suitable to the book. I’m very happy for people to talk about it in whatever way seems most helpful to them. My first education in art was as a