Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Fight Night, a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, is extraordinarily funny and is poignant and pensive as well. It’s a novel centered around suicide, a subject Toews addressed remarkably well in her magnificent All My Puny Sorrows that borrowed from her own experience with her sister’s suicide. It may be difficult to envision that a book with suicide as a prominent theme could also be whimsical and humorous, but Fight Night is just that. 

Three generations of women: nine-year-old Swiv, her pregnant mother, and the novel’s star her 86-year-old grandmother Elvira have lost close family members to suicide and Swiv’s mother fears a genetic tendency will be their undoing. With precocious Swiv narrating the book as a letter to her absent father, Toews captures the unpredictable thoughts of a child regarding what could otherwise be a depressing subject. 

Swiv has recently been suspended from school for fighting—something Elvira admires in Swiv. “You're a small thing,” Grandma writes, “and you must learn to fight.”  Swiv is supposedly under her grandmother’s care, yet it’s Swiv who administers the nitroglycerin spray when her grandmother needs it and Swiv who goes to the pharmacy to refill prescriptions. Her grandmother is “teaching” her with one math lesson centering on the death of a man in their former church who abused his wife. Grandma poses the problem:

If it takes five years to kill a guy with prayer, and it takes six people a day to pray, then how many prayers of pissed off women praying every day for five years does it take to pray a guy to death?” 

The family, like Toews herself, and the women in her last novel Women Talking have been damaged by the misogyny of their Mennonite sect and the powerful man controlling it. Toews never tells the reader that Willit Braun is evil, instead, she reveals his deeds through Swiv’s observations and Elvira’s satirical comments about them. 

It takes a while to acclimate yourself to Fight Night’s style, but once you fall into the rhythm of Swiv and her grandmother’s conversations and antics, the novel won’t let you go. When the book ends, you’ll feel a part of the family. 

The Los Angeles Times calls Fight Night “the Ted Lasso of novels” and it is in that it’s packed with one-liners and is as the Times notes a reminder “of what’s worth fighting for.” It’s also similar because the comedy sits atop grief and trauma. 

Summing it Up: Read Fight Night for a rollicking, imaginative tale with two impossible-to-forget characters whose wry dialogue belies the difficulties they face. Read it and every novel by Miriam Toews for a master class in subtle plotting, underlying themes that beg for discussion, and always, always a great story. 

I just listened to an excerpt of the audio book and the narrator reads in a clear, no-nonsense voice. I feared they might make her sound cute. This would be a fabulous audio book.

Rating: 5 Stars

Categories: Fiction, Five Stars, Road Food, Sushi, Book Club

Publication Date: October 5, 2021

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1 comment:

  1. I just put this on hold; thank you for calling my attention to it.