Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Review: "Preparation for the Next Life" by Atticus Lish
I can pretty much guarantee you have not read a love story like Atticus Lish’s first novel, Preparation for the Next Life. It is a grimy, brutal and harrowing read in subject matter, its direct prose and its dreamlike quality, only this time that dream is the American dream, and it isn’t really a dream at all: it’s a nightmare. This story of the love between a Chinese immigrant and an American solider is many things. It is maddening at times in the way the stories of Hubert Selby Jr. are. We know it won’t end well, and our only hope is that these people leave unscathed, but it is also breathtakingly original, telling a story unadorned by sentiment and imbued with a harsh, yet magnetic sense of reality’s cruel ways. The story begins as we find Zou Li, a Chine-Muslim immigrant coming to America illegally who is thrown in jail, where her experiences reminded me a lot about the horror in Selby’s novel The Room. Once she gets out, she begins selling bootleg DVDs on the streets of Manhattan. She meets Skinner, an ex-solider, when he is looking for an erotic massage. They both carry their pain like large boulders on their back and sometimes take it out on each other, but more than anything, they just want to not be alone, even if they are better at, to quote Dennis Lehane, “feasting on each other until it hurts to move”. The shifts in the novel are jarring, as are the character introductions especially that of Jimmy, whose importance isn’t known until the books final, astounding pages. Recalling writers like Selby and Thom Jones (which is mentioned in a review I read), this is far from a masterpiece, but makes me, as a reader, very eager to see what a writer this breathtakingly original does next.