The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish - review by Ian Critchley

Ian Critchley

The New Bostonians

The War for Gloria


Serpent’s Tail 439pp £16.99

Atticus Lish had an early introduction to the writing life. His father, Gordon Lish, is an editor famed for his meticulous editing of Raymond Carver’s short stories. As a nine-year-old, Atticus wrote a piece of prose that ended up quoted in family friend Don DeLillo’s novel The Names. Yet thereafter, Lish appeared to do everything possible to avoid becoming a writer. Dropping out of Harvard, he took a succession of jobs, which included a brief stint in the US Marine Corps and a period translating technical texts from Mandarin, before publishing his first novel, Preparation for the Next Life, in 2014 at the age of forty-two. That novel became one of the most lauded American debuts of the past few years, winning the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and garnering a host of stellar reviews. An unconventional love story featuring a Uyghur-Chinese immigrant and a troubled US veteran of the Iraq War, the novel unflinchingly describes the festering underbelly of New York and the lives of society’s marginalised.

Lish’s second novel, The War for Gloria, is set two hundred miles up the east coast, in and around Boston. Teenager Corey Goltz lives with his mother, Gloria, in a succession of insalubrious residences; at one point they are even forced to live in her car. His father, Leonard, is a transient presence: supposedly a student of physics, he also claims to be a law enforcement officer, though it turns out he is a security guard at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He says his surname is Agoglia, but his driving licence carries the name DeCarlo. In other words, he is a prime bullshit merchant who somehow conned his way into Gloria’s affections, got her pregnant, then left her to bring up Corey alone.

When Gloria is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Corey faces a crisis. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a neurodegenerative condition with no known cure. Sufferers gradually lose the ability to walk, move, talk and feed themselves, and eventually require round-the-clock care. Lish has revealed

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