I don’t generally pick favourite authours. There are so many whose work I enjoy, and so immensely, that why should I have to pick a favourite? I also feel this way about colours, foods, vacation destinations and basically everything in life. There are so many options, let’s just relish in the existence of them all!
But like any reader, there are writers whose work I will definitely pay attention to when it is in progress, and being unleashed into the world. Miriam Toews is one of those writers.
I first read her work shortly after A Complicated Kindness came out in the mid-2000s. How lucky to discover such a wonderful authour on her third book! It gives one the opportunity to go back and read her previous work – and read her previous work I did! The Summer of My Amazing Luck and A Boy of Good Breeding were equally entertaining and enjoyable, but A Complicated Kindness was the standout for me. Its quirky and quippy narrator, Nomi, was a whole new world in reading for me. And I fawned all over it.
Over the years, I continued to read Toews’s books periodically, but went back and forth on my feelings about them. I enjoyed them all, All My Puny Sorrows, in particular, but none of them were ever as revelatory as A Complicated Kindness. And I know people really, really loved Women Talking, but I…just…didn’t.
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
Fight Night is told in the unforgettable voice of Swiv, a nine-year-old living in Toronto with her pregnant mother, who is raising Swiv while caring for her own elderly, frail, yet extraordinarily lively mother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma takes on the role of teacher and gives her the task of writing to Swiv’s absent father about life in the household during the last trimester of the pregnancy. In turn, Swiv gives Grandma an assignment: to write a letter to “Gord,” her unborn grandchild (and Swiv’s soon-to-be brother or sister). “You’re a small thing,” Grandma writes to Gord, “and you must learn to fight.”
As Swiv records her thoughts and observations, Fight Night unspools the pain, love, laughter, and above all, will to live a good life across three generations of women in a close-knit family. But it is Swiv’s exasperating, wise and irrepressible Grandma who is at the heart of this novel: someone who knows intimately what it costs to survive in this world, yet has found a way—painfully, joyously, ferociously—to love and fight to the end, on her own terms.
Now, let me tell you something: I rarely – so rarely I would be willing to say never – enjoy a child narrator. In movies, on tv, anywhere. I know that they’re set up to be precocious and the recipe says that is supposed to be endearing, but it never works on me. I don’t think kids saying grown up things is funny, it often feels bratty and annoying. In real life and in fiction, I don’t like children acting like adults because they aren’t adults and shouldn’t try to be. It’s such a turn-off that I will mostly refuse anything created in the voice of a child. I’m not going to say that I’m rethinking that position, but I will say this: Toews’s Swiv really worked for me in this book. She was nine years old and she stayed nine years old in her frustrations, her confusions and her understanding of her small world.
That’s how Mom talks. It’s probably not true. She lies. She hates words like modern and creative and sexuality and she hates acronyms. She hates almost everything. Grandma told me she doesn’t know how Mom was able to stop ranting long enough to get pregnant with Gord. She compared impregnating Mom to creeping up to the edge of an active volcano that you accidentally thought was inactive. She says Mom does the emotional work for the whole family, feeling everything ten times harder than necessary so the rest of us can act normal.
For me, the tone of Fight Night was a flashback to young Nomi and the brilliance of truly seeing the settings and the surroundings through the eyes of people so distinctly different than I am – in ages, in life experiences, in demeanours. This family of three generations of women made me want to be one of them, to be like them and to embrace my loved ones as easily and thoroughly, however unconventional the means.
I cherish this book. The further into it I got, the more I laughed out loud. In fact, no book has ever made me laugh as much as Fight Night did. And it also made me cry. More than anything, this book served as a reminder of the power of love, hope, and spirit and the strength of sharing all of it with the people around us.
It was…our tragedy! Which is our humanity. We need those things. We need tragedy, which is the need to love and the need…not just the need, the imperative, the human imperative…to experience joy. To find joy and to create joy. All through the night. The fight night.
Fight Night is being published on August 24th and you can preorder your copy today. Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House Canada for the opportunity to read this as an ARC. I loved it so much. ❤️