cover image The War for Gloria

The War for Gloria

Atticus Lish. Knopf, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3232-5

PEN/Faulkner Award winner Lish (Preparation for the Next Life) returns with an unflinching and heartbreaking story of a teenage boy taking care of his terminally ill mother while contending with his biological father. Gloria Goltz, an aspiring feminist writer, meets Leonard Agoglia in the mid-1990s while at college in Cambridge. He’s a condescending autodidact some two decades older who works security at MIT. She raises Corey by herself in various parts of Boston; sometimes Leonard comes over to play chess. His claim that he witnessed someone murder a woman makes Gloria’s lover, Joan, suspect him of foul play. During Corey’s sophomore year, Gloria moves them to Quincy, Mass., and is devastated by her diagnosis of ALS. Corey casts around for surrogate father figures with mixed results. There’s Tom Hibbard, a “tin knocker” who helps Corey land construction jobs and whose college-bound daughter, Molly, inspires him to give up street fights; Adrian Reinhardt, a physics-obsessed kid from Cambridge who wears a steel cup at all times out of fear of being castrated; and Eddie, an encouraging MMA coach who doesn’t have time for Corey’s personal problems. With Gloria’s condition worsening, Leonard is back in the picture, but he’s not much use. The tension slowly burns with Leonard’s odious presence on the family futon, and it intensifies as Leonard and Adrian strike up a dangerous friendship during Adrian’s first year at MIT. 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. (After a painful fall, she tells Corey, “I tried to jump one last time.”) This is a tremendous achievement. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Sept.)