Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Mitko is a short novel published in 2011 by University of Miami Press (of Oxford, Ohio) – with cover image adapted from a now-famous 19th century stop-motion photograph by Eadweard Muybridge. The setting is Bulgaria, primarily Sofia, where young American author Garth Greenwell (below) was teaching at an elite high school during the time he wrote the book.

Among the back-cover blurbs is one by accomplished fiction writer Margot Livesey who commends Greenwell's "Jamesian skill in parsing emotions . . ."

Here, in the voice of the nameless narrator, is a typical sentence (p. 48): "And so it is, I thought then, as the man and his child released each other and retreated from the water and as I prepared finally to bend my head to my work, so it is that at the very moment we come into full consciousness of ourselves and begin gathering impressions with which to stock that consciousness, developing thereby the habitudes and expectations that will form the personalities we are graced or burdened by, at this very moment what we experience is leave-taking and loss, a pang and a wound that is then inextricable from who we are, a betrayal (if it is a betrayal) the size and the shape of which determine the size and shape of what we ourselves become."

Agreed, this sounds similar to the sinuosities of a Henry James sentence. Yet the story is not put together like a Henry James story at all. Where James imposes plot, Greenwell finds a dim miasma more authentic. It is hard to imagine a Henry James novel set in Bulgaria. Or to imagine Henry James choosing an alcoholic gay street hustler as his title character. But maybe, if such a Henry James novel existed, it would have turned out to be exactly this one.