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.
... 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.