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22Jun

The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish review – a gripping struggle for selfhood

The American award winner brings his laser-like focus to the story of a teen and his terminally ill mother

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or motor neurone disease, is a condition of unknown cause that progressively destroys the human motor system. The sufferer loses the ability to open jars or turn the pages of a book, then to walk, to bathe or feed herself, to speak, and eventually to breathe. A diagnosis of ALS means another three to 10 years of life, although some of this period will be a type of life that, outwardly at least, resembles death.

The War for Gloria, the stunningly good second novel by Atticus Lish, spans four years in the life of Corey Goltz and the death of his mother, Gloria. She wanted to be a feminist thinker, a painter, a musician, but instead she dropped out of college, had Corey, and put her plans on hold. Corey’s father, Leonard Agoglia, is a self-proclaimed physics genius who performs some kind of law enforcement role at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; as with much of Leonard’s life, the precise details are murky. He wasn’t around for most of Corey’s childhood, but after Gloria’s diagnosis he begins showing up semi-regularly at their small house in Quincy, a coastal suburb of Boston.

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