Zou Lei, orphan of the desert, migrates to work in America and finds herself slaving in New York's kitchens. She falls in love with a young man whose heart has been broken in another desert. A new life may be possible if together they can survive homelessness, lockup, and the young man's nightmares, which may be more prophecy than madness. Winner of the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Atticus Lish’s first novel, Preparation for the Next Life, is unlike any American fiction I’ve read recently in its intricate comprehension of, and deep feeling for, life at the margins. This is an intense book with a low, flyspecked center of gravity. It’s about blinkered lives, scummy apartments, dismal food, bad options. At its knotty core, amazingly, is perhaps the finest and most unsentimental love story of the new decade. It’s one that builds slowly in intensity, like a shaft of sunlight into an anthracite mine ... Mr. Lish’s sentences...are confident, loose jointed, strewn with essential detail ... There’s been a surfeit of wounded warriors in recent American fiction...these men can, in lesser hands, be stock characters. Not here. The encrusted detail in Mr. Lish’s prose flicks the switch on in every sentence ... This is a love story with a lot of ache in it ... This book is thick with the kind of sub-countertop-level detail that can’t be faked ... Atticus Lish has written a necessary novel, one with echoes of early Ken Kesey, of William T. Vollmann’s best writing and of Thom Jones’s pulverizing short stories ... The final chapters of this indelible book pulled my heart up under my ears.
Atticus Lish...has written a stunning, brilliant novel about the ignored underclass in America ... Foreboding hangs over this story from the first page ... Lish is merciless on the Chinese who are bent on making money and pay the lowest possible rates to vulnerable people like Zou Lei. There are no days off. This is a world which I doubt any writer has ever explored in such minute and telling detail ... Lish seems to have walked every street and every alley and every bar and every small business for miles around...His ear for working-class and military language is devastating (he came to writing after a spell as a marine and a spell as a Chinese translator), and his descriptions of life at ground level are both original and disturbing, and without proselytising. Every word, every encounter, rings true ... This is a wonderfully ambitious book, demanding and unflinching, and one of the finest novels I have read in years.
...astounding... It is a love story, a war story, a tale of New York City in which familiar streets become exotic, mysterious, portentous, foul, magnificent. Some of it reads like poetry. All of it moves with a breathless momentum ... The sense of place in the novel is so strong, so particular, and at the same time so boundless and indistinguishable from the world around it that Lish leaves you dizzy and disoriented in your own country, in your hometown ... Lish’s combination of glancing observations and throbbing rhythm is particularly powerful in his visions of war, creating an alarmingly straightforward, staccato blur of bewilderment and pain. This is a writer who hears his words, his sentences, his punctuation, who hears meter ... Lish’s passages are so resilient and unexpected that he seems to have discovered not just the dirt beneath the clichés, but the rich soil they’ve grown out of ... Atticus Lish has written a transcendent novel.