... profoundly affecting ... Lish’s substantial gifts are in abundant display here and throughout this gorgeously written book — his ability to render urban landscapes, the weather and its subtle effects on the emotions of his characters, the textural experience of poverty and class stratification in our early-21st-century America, physical labor, as well as physical and psychic violence. All of this is captured by a passionate narrative voice that has clearly been around, one that intimately knows not only the rigors of confined combat in a cage fight but also the bruised and hungry heart of a woman yearning to fulfill her potential before she dies. But at the core of The War for Gloria is the unforgettable character of Corey, a young man who is left to care for his dying mother alone, a boy who is hurled into the hard streets to find his solitary way ... With this, only his second novel, Lish has not only created a work of enduring art, he has distinguished himself as one of our finest writers.
Atticus Lish’s second novel, The War for Gloria, is, by and large, a monster — solemn, punishing, kinetic, in easy contact with dark areas of the psyche, and yet heartbreaking in its portrait of a mother and son facing her mortal illness. It more than pays off on the promise of his first novel, Preparation for the Next Life, which won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner award ... You never sense [Lish is] merely writing 'quality fiction'; he seems to draw instead from a deep well of experience, especially when it comes to the tastes and textures of life on the economic margins ... The details are intimate and harrowing and, to some degree, drive the core of the narrative ... Lish’s novel is powerful, intelligent, brooding and most of all convincing; it earns its emotions. Two things in it don’t convince ... No matter. The War for Gloria works because the details are so casually drilled home.
This is coming-of-age fiction in extremis...and the reader is dragged well beyond safe emotional boundaries as well. The poise of Mr. Lish’s writing makes this bleak story so dangerously absorbing. Gloria’s inexorable degeneration from ALS is charted with devastating care and observational finesse ... This is a far fuller novel than I can indicate here ... A brutal murder late in the proceedings carries it toward the formulas of Boston crime noir, somewhat weakening Mr. Lish’s spell. But the powerfully ambiguous ending brings to a fitting close a remarkable portrait of a sensitive boy forced into a life of hardness and violence.
... peopled with well-drawn characters who live in precarious economic circumstances ... Lish is a sensational literary craftsman, using the words in his toolbelt to construct narrative that is at once coolly dispassionate and red hot with emotion ... Suffice to say that the narrative descends into a level of violence for which I was unprepared. Corey is kicked around and abandoned in every sense of the word. I felt the book thinned out as it moved to its conclusion. I wasn't sure what the violence contributed to the world Lish had so painstakingly and masterfully built. Perhaps that is Lish's point. His Boston is one with seamy undersides and unhinged characters who act with malice and revenge. The result is a very dark novel ... I will be thinking about The War For Gloria for a long time. The book opens a disturbing window into a teenager's losing battle to save his mother, our broken healthcare system, the power that humans have to inflict harm on one another, and one boy's efforts to save not only his mother, but himself.
... a deeply immersive novel, steeped in tragedies — the chief one being characters who try to muscle their way through problems for lack of other ideas ... almost an unintentional satire of Great Men narratives, in which determined men move from strength to strength and climb a ladder to attainment. Here, Corey scraps and battles only to wind up in the same place he began ... Lish makes this kind of despair consistently engrossing, in part because he’s so rigorously poker-faced. Though he writes from an Olympian third-person, he delivers no commentary on his characters’ dilemmas, no winking pronouncements or broader messages.
... a force, an epic coming-of-age tale filled with pain, heartache, fear, and undying love. When you think the story might turn one direction, it turns another. But what remains steadfast throughout is Corey’s devotion to his mother, his guttural need to do all he can to protect her. It is, however, a very long read, and at times, the story feels slow. But on the whole, Lish has crafted a compelling tale filled with complex and at times, frightening characters that will keep you intrigued.
Lish’s sentences are carved out of granite ...But the book is an unstable hybrid, unbearably poignant until it turns improbably pulpy, pitting a set of intricate characters against a pair of villains who seem to have escaped from a caricature factory managed by Charles Dickens in Hell ... The real war in this book may be between genres: elegy and bildungsroman on the one hand and gothic thriller on the other. The clash is fascinating ... I’ve lived in Cambridge and my grandfather lived in Quincy when I was a child in the Eighties, and I’ve never seen them evoked in such brilliant detail and with such total control on the page ... Lish’s writing about Corey’s work and his cage fighting displays a virtuosic level of detail as the boy undergoes trials and humiliations and learns how to keep his jobs and win his matches. Similarly fine is the attention Lish pays to Gloria’s decline: her falls, her loss of language, and at last her loss of mobility. The portrait is heartbreaking.
With staccato prose and razor-sharp descriptions of working-class Boston, PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Lish excels at storytelling. The descriptions of Gloria’s struggle with ALS and Corey’s role as caregiver are nothing short of brilliant. Above all, the portrait of toxic masculinity is stark, nearly to the point of caricature. Although this is a relentlessly depressing story, it is powered by remarkable empathy and humanity.
An unflinching and heartbreaking story ... Lish imbues the male characters’ varied pitches of toxic masculinity with great sadness, smoothing the edges off their macho posturing, and he writes with devastating empathy of Gloria’s highs and lows ... This is a tremendous achievement.