Atticus Lish’s Second Novel Is A Contemplative Heartbreaker

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Instead, she met Leonard. “He lost his school, his love, his family, his pride, his trust in people,” Lish writes. In one movie, Leonard could be played by Harvey Keitel, whom Frank Rich once called “our foremost interpreter of beaters.” Not the kind of guy who wears new underwear every day, Leonard absorbs his confidence for the sport.

Credit…Ryan Hermens

Gloria begins to experience psychological problems. Yet he is a determined free spirit. Lish describes her as some kind of skinny Janis Joplin.

Early in the novel we learn that Gloria has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. They only have a few years to live and they will be tough. Corey takes care of him. The details are candid and upsetting, and to some extent form the essence of the narrative.

“The Battle for Gloria” is somewhat autobiographical. Lish’s mother was diagnosed with ALS when she was 15. He fought in MMA matches. His father, editor Gordon Lish, apparently wasn’t a big part of his son’s life.

When Gloria describes Corey’s traits, you feel like she might be identifying the author based on some of the photos. I’ll quote this explanation at length because it illustrates Lish’s crackling prose:

“As his son grew up, he began to develop a sharp childlike face. To him, for example, it resembled a primitive ax head hewn from flint by the Algonquin Indians. It had a small, round, streamlined skull like a cheetah. The front of his face—nose, maxilla, sinuses, chin—protruded forward like a dog’s skull—an anthropologist would call it prognathous. His blond hair grew long, like Julius Caesar or Eminem, with a short, narrow hat on his head. And she had freckles.”

Lish’s novel is powerful, intelligent, thoughtful and, above all, believable; gains her feelings. Two things in it are not convincing. One is the character of Corey’s friend Adrian, an MIT student with an overdeveloped castration complex. It looks like it was patched from a different novel. The other is the eerie and somewhat appropriate ending of the novel.

Not important. “The Battle for Gloria” works because the details are so haphazardly drilled into the house. Training, intense rapid weight loss, absorption of blows, another man chewing your stubble face in a cage. Corey dreams of being a “shaven saint.”

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