After Atticus Lish’s first novel, “Preparation for the Next Life,” came out in 2014, the author said, “my life changed.” The book won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award and ended up on many lists of the best books of the year.
For Lish, coming up with the next book idea was daunting. “I didn’t want to repeat myself,” he said. Trying to imagine the topic most likely to “hit the nerve,” he realized it was the story of his mother’s death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) when he was a teenager. “It was time to tell that story,” he said.
A native of New York City, Lish was a student at Phillips Academy Andover when his mother died. “I became very interested, once she got ill, in human physiology,” he said. But it wasn’t the progressive weakening of her disease that fascinated him most. “I wanted to know about the nerves and the muscles, and exercises and how to summon all my power. I was interested in feats of strength; I was interested in guys who could bend iron bars.”
“The War for Gloria,” Lish’s second novel, covers similar terrain, both psychological and geographic. Like his book’s main character, Corey, he got into trouble. “I got a little antisocial. I’m not bragging about that,” Lish said. “I acted badly at a time when my family needed me to act well. I screwed up a lot.” Set in Massachusetts, the novel’s landscapes draw from Lish’s own experiences at Andover, and later Harvard. “Everything came together in Massachusetts,” he said. “It was like an acupuncture point on the surface of the earth.”
When thinking about how he wants his writing to affect readers, Lish added, “I think about stadium rock ’n’ roll. I’m an AC/DC fan. They really rock the house. What I would really love to do is rock the world.”
Atticus Lish will read at 7 p.m. Friday, September 10, in a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.