Monday, February 29, 2016

What Belongs to You

by Garth Greenwell

I've been stalling on writing about this book because it is so damn good and I feel as if I could write so much. The writing in this book is so fantastic that I'm jealous. (That one short story I wrote was supposed to be like this book, which in fact began its life as a short story.) It's not about the plot; it's about the "feels," the character's stream of consciousness, and the depth of a moment. The story is about a gay man, an American living in an Eastern European capital, and his fraught relationship with a young hustler, but the emotional timbre of the novel will resonate with anyone who's ever felt drawn to someone tragically wrong for them.

What Belongs to You isn't very long, but it's packed full of beautiful language and evocative imagery. I found myself re-reading certain passages to savor them, and I even wrote down a couple that struck a chord with me: "I was being shifted by the passage of time from one category of erotic object to another"; and "how helpless desire is outside its little theater of heat, how ridiculous it becomes the moment it isn't welcomed, even if that welcome is contrived." I could have collected more.

I read in an interview of the author that gay life in Bulgaria reminded him of his early gay life in rural Kentucky in the 1990s: the secrecy, shame, desire, furtive sex, emptiness, fear, rejection, repression. Gay life may be rosier and freer in parts of the world, but gay liberation hasn't reached everywhere. This idea came back to me while reading a section in which the protagonist is recalling his youth and the realization of his sexual orientation, and how it altered his relationships with friends, family, even himself. Amid a rush of sadness and personal recollection, I had an epiphany: that feeling of alienation and difference, the sense of rejection is not and cannot ever be a relic of the past, even in more liberal places; it's mirrored in the self-realization of every homosexual — whether at age 10, 14, 18 or 50 — that he is fundamentally different from most of the people he knows, that he is not like his father; no amount of social acceptance or tolerance will change that simple fact.

No comments: