Cleanness Summary & Study Guide

Garth Greenwell
This Study Guide consists of approximately 37 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Cleanness.
This section contains 780 words
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Cleanness Summary & Study Guide Description

Cleanness Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Cleanness by Garth Greenwell.

The following version of this book was sued to create this study guide: Greenwell, Garth. Cleanness. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

The novel is divided into nine chapters. Each chapter represents a distinct anecdote from the narrator’s life, with each anecdote occurring across the span of a year or two. The narrator is a man in his mid-to-late twenties. He is from the United States, and he is currently living and working in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is openly homosexual, despite the fact that Bulgaria is often intolerant towards LGBT people. He teaches literature and creative writing to high school students. In Chapter 1, “Mentor,” a student of his asks to meet with him at a café, and the narrator agrees to do so. In narration the narrator refers to the student as ‘G.’ (The narrator refers to most of the other characters simply by an initial.) G. confides that he is homosexual and that he has become romantically attracted to a male friend. The friend is heterosexual, and the love is unrequited. The narrator had a similar experience when he was a teenager. He tries to comfort G. by saying that he will soon overcome these feelings of longing. G. becomes upset—saying that he does not want to overcome the feelings—and leaves.

Chapter 2, “Gospodar,” occurs chronologically after most of the other chapters in the book. The narrator’s boyfriend—‘R.’—recently broke up with the narrator. The narrator feels sad and lonely, and he tries to soothe himself by meeting men online for casual, anonymous sex. He goes to the apartment of a middle-aged man who wants to dominate the narrator sexually. The narrator agrees, and he enjoys it. However, when the man refuses to use a condom, the narrator flees. In Chapter 3, “Decent People,” the narrator attends a pro-LGBT march in Sofia. He is accompanied by some friends of his. They all feel somewhat optimistic that LGBT inclusion is slowly but steadily increasing in Bulgaria. However, they are also somewhat discouraged by the resistance to such inclusion. At around the time that the march is ending, a group of homophobic men physically assault some of the marchers.

Chapter 4, “Cleanness,” focuses on the relationship between R. and the narrator. R. is originally from Portugal. The narrator and R. first meet on a dating website. R. is 21 years old and is finishing college. Their relationship is casual and mostly physical at first. However, it soon becomes more emotional and intimate. In Chapter 5, “The Frog King,” R. and the narrator go travel to Italy together in time for New Year’s Eve. They find that they are able to publicly display affection there without being harassed or persecuted. They attend a public New Year’s Eve celebration. The narrator feels very content, and he hopes that his relationship with R. will last for a long time. In Chapter 6, “A Valediction,” R. decides that he does not want to live in Bulgaria indefinitely. He decides to move to Lisbon.

In Chapter 7, “Harbor,” R. and the narrator’s relationship has recently ended. After R. moved to Lisbon, they tried to have a long-distance relationship, with the narrator visiting R. as often as possible. However, R. eventually decided to break off the relationship. The narrator feels very sad and lonely. He attends a writers’ conference in Burgas, Bulgaria, and he tries to take solace in the company of the other writers. He has also begun having anonymous sex with many other men as a way of trying to soothe his grief. In Chapter 8, “The Little Saint,” the narrator has sex with a man he met online. The man is highly sexually promiscuous and values sexual gratification more than anything else in life. The narrator obliges the man’s request to be sexually dominated. However, while they have sex, the narrator suddenly begins to cry. The man holds the narrator and tenderly comforts him.

In Chapter 9, “An Evening Out,” the narrator decides that he will return to the United States soon. However, before he does so, he decides to go to a bar/club with two former students of his: ‘Z.’ and ‘N.’ The two students have temporarily returned to Bulgaria after finishing their first year of college abroad. N.’s parents have urged N. to study something lucrative and practical, but he has recently decided to study literature. The three men become increasingly intoxicated throughout the night, and the narrator begins to find himself sexually attract to Z. The narrator makes a sexual advance towards Z., after which the narrator feels embarrassed and ashamed. The narrator returns alone to this apartment, and he still feels lonely without R.

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