“Preparation for the Next Life” by Atticus Lish



This novel’s star-crossed lovers, united through a chance encounter in a dilapidated building, have little in common except a commitment to physical fitness and a desire to disappear into the indifference of New York City. Skinner, freshly released from the army, lives in a rented basement, works out, and drinks. Zou Lei, an undocumented Uighur, works at a restaurant and has revised her American Dream downward after being detained by immigration authorities: “She was going to stay where everybody was illegal just like her and get lost in the crowd and keep her head down. Forget living like an American. It was enough to be free and on the street.” Even as Zou Lei starts to notice Skinner’s aloofness and demons from the war, she falls deeper in love and starts to imagine a life together. Lish sets this romance in a city where people’s daily struggles have imbued them with a necessary selfishness and Muslims live in anxiety amidst post-9/11 excesses of law enforcement. His sparse prose often stumbles over clunky similes (“his head was running like an engine”) and long passages of terse sentences that read like Hemingway parodies, creating monotony rather than tension. Yet Preparation’s rough edges become utterly forgivable as it builds towards its tragic conclusion.

-Published November 11th by Tyrant Books


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