Corey Goltz grows up in the working-class outskirts of Boston as the only child of Gloria, whose ambitions were derailed early but who has always given her son everything she can. Corey, restless, dreams of leaving home for a great adventure. The War for Gloria tells the story of a young man, straddling childhood and adulthood, whose yearning to protect his mother requires him to risk destroying his father.
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.
... 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.
Gloria and Corey live in Quincy, a Boston suburb ... Lish excels at its physical and social geography ... Lish can produce a sketch of a neighbourhood that is suffused with a character’s point of view ... How to do justice to this relentless progression [of ALS] without capitulating to it and thereby emptying the novel of every hopeful possibility? The War for Gloria is a strong title, but for much of the book it’s hard for the reader to work out who is fighting it ... It sometimes seems as if the novel itself is...trying to move away from helplessness and its burdens, despite their being its subject ... Sometimes Lish renounces any access to what either party is thinking or feeling ... Elsewhere there’s a descriptive ecstasy in Lish’s writing that sometimes leads him to pack in more epithets than the grammar can comfortably hold ... the umbilical cord between writer and character is sometimes stretched too far ... It’s the predetermined ending of ALS above all that must somehow be both accommodated and resisted, if death is not to have the last word ... A theme of self-sacrificial patriotism arrives very suddenly and makes the last pages queasy with unearned uplift. Strangest of all is an extreme genre shift, strongly propelled before being allowed to fizzle, into something like thriller territory, complete with outbursts of coldly described violence ... For the duration there’s an amnesty on empathy and a release of something like glee when bodies are subjected to a single pulse of annihilating energy, rather than slow-motion disassembly, though the effect is not of development but dislocation.