Suggested Pairings: Garth Greenwell and Harry Porter and the Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Beans Porter
You are in Bulgaria. You are a teacher. You are an American man seeking to meet men. To meet them in a certain type of bathroom, “…a chill room with its impression of damp…” “…having a single purpose only, any other use of them accidental.” You meet a young, homeless Bulgarian, Mitko. He tries to sell you drugs. You don’t want drugs, you want sex. So he sells you sex. A transaction. But you want to take this transaction further. Most would not—it’s a crazy idea, to confuse this form of transaction with something deeper. Unless you are torn, to the own self. Your wants, motives, and mind. Well. Here we go. And so it begins.
As you surmised, I’m a drug dealer. Example: Yesterday, a young man pedaled over to my house to trade beer for drugs. I gave him 75 tablets of ibuprofen, four packets of raw sugar, and 2.6 pounds of Starbucks Coffee House Blend Melange Maison. He loaded these into his bicycle basket and passed me a six pack of Harry Porter and the Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Beans Porter (Great Lakes Brewery). Dork. But I will say the beer pours a dark cedar with a spare diminishing marshmallowy light-auburn head.
Books by people named Garth. I rarely read them.
Who is Garth Greenwell? I have no idea. This book won the Miami University Press Novella Contest, so there’s that. But I had trouble finding much else. But I digress. Look, this dude can write, in this sort of old-soul way, a prose style I’ve seen before but not so much lately, this meandering, philosophical prose, reminiscent of Jean-Philippe Toussaint or maybe James or maybe Kyle’s man, Thomas Bernhard, two writers I discovered here, at HTML G (Thanks, G, for licking my checking account so hard). And what’s really odd about the prose is its somewhat anachronistic stylistic flourishes, while simultaneously conveying scenes of men talking on Skype, of cellphone assignations, of orange soda mixed with gin. Then you add Bulgaria. Greenwell catches the stark beauty of the Balkan region, the architectural jolts from Communist gray (Ministry of Electrification, anyone?) to raw gorges and river and sea to post-Communist disco thumping in the low fog of night. How about a Fresco? It seems a wrench and sunder country, and obviously the apt setting for a ruptured idea of relationship.
[I would type out an excerpt but am pretty much into this Harry Porter now and just don’t have it in me. You want a blurb instead? Here’s a fucking blurb:]
Mitko is a haunting and compelling meditation on erotic obsession, loneliness, and power. Garth Greenwell writes with the intensity and urgency of a poet, and his novella takes on the weight and impact of a much longer work of fiction.
—Stephen McCauley, author of The Object of My Affection
That’s true, Stephen. And the sex scenes are written rather well, too. This is tough. Most authors can’t do the sex scenes. Greenwell almost pulls off a J. Salter. And this is Greenwell’s first book. Kudos, sir. This sip’s for you:
Who in the weed-eater tries to allude to Harry Potter when in the sacramental act of creating a beer? Why, it’s disrespectful. Ah… very high in cocoa taste with strong cappuccino back-flavors on the tongue pours Abyssinia black. Good talapia kipper smoke. Very drinkable, meaning I polished off 4 of the 6 pack and cut the backyard fine with only minimal serpentine patterns and one pink perennial now shredded.
Tension. Ever read Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson? It’s one of those book the Hunter S. haters never read when they talk their throat-fluff. Yes, he was Gonzo, blah-blah, drinking, drugs, whatever surface thing, but he was also a journalist and could write. But I digress. Anyway, in Hell’s Angels this conceit is set up: Sure, Hunter S. gets to hang out with the gang, but they explain that at any moment they might turn and beat the shit out of him. Any second now. So that tension fuels the book. You’re waiting. In Mitko, we get the same. Mitko likes to fight. Mitko has a chipped tooth and a tendency to drink for ill, on your tab. Did you just bring this man out of the bathroom stall, into you apartment, alone? You did. As readers, we are well schooled in Chekhov’s maxim: gun introduced, must fire eventually. Will Mitko fire?
I poured the 5th beer into a clear, glass birdfeeder I use to examine the color of beer: Appearance: vanilla, raspberry, super, super vanilla, it’s ghostly, slightly spicy too. Flavour: wow, glow vanilla (Like many of us, I’ve had vanilla fresh from Madagascar because I always traveling to Madagascar or, you know, nearby) tangy taffy (yellow) malt, the vanilla bean is super prominent (did I mention?), an almost curry flavor but I think that’s the vanillas–wow that vanilla–effect on my taste buds. Who knows?
Get this book. You people would like this book. Where did my 6th beer go? Drink leads to drink. Desire in me. Deep grass I wade. I’ll find it.