Fight Night by Miriam Toews
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: October 5, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Childhood, Literary
Sometimes when we fight…sometimes we’re not fighting in quite the right way…we need to adjust our game. But still, the main thing is that we’re fighting…your mom’s a fighter. We’re all fighters.
Swiv comes from a family of fighters. At nine she’s suspended from school because King of the Castle is not a recess game to her, it’s a battle. One that she will win at any cost, against any opponent no matter their size, gender, or grade. This fighting spirit is not appreciated, so for the time being she is being homeschooled by her grandmother while her mother works. Her mother who is eight-months-and-counting pregnant and only has two moods: tired or “scorched earth”. This tightknit, funny, ferocious trio is the soul of Miriam Toews new novel, Fight Night.
The structure of Swiv’s days is determined by the educational plan her mother and grandmother devise. One of the first assignments is that each will write a letter to someone not there. Swiv chooses to write to her father, who left when she was a little girl. Her ongoing letter to her father is the framework of Fight Night with Swiv as its only narrator. This is the novel’s beating heart as she recounts the routine of her days with her grandmother, their adventures and her worrisomely hangry, tired mother. Days filled with humor and one elderly woman’s zeal for life and love of her daughter and granddaughter. Who quotes Shakespeare and Marcus Aurelius, befriends everyone she meets (to Swiv’s mortification), says she went to school with Euripedes, and believes laughter is the best medicine.
It’s left to the reader to interpret Swiv’s life from an adult perspective. To realize that she bathes and clothes grandma, cooks her meals, manages her medications, and monitors her condition when her heart acts up. All while her mother works to pay the bills. Toews couches her characters’ stories in a contemporary realism, but this is not a tale of abuse and drama. It is life going on as it does in untold households around the world, with the same gruff tenderness. Family history is often taught through the guise of Swiv’s education, including time spent in a patriarchal religious community before Swiv was born. This becomes a Math lesson:
If it takes five years to kill a guy with a 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?
I don’t know what it is about feisty little girls that resonates with me, because I was not one. Chatty, yes, but very girly and a rule-follower. But in my reading, I love them—going all the way back to Ramona Quimby. Swiv leaps off the page with exuberance, frustration, confusion, pain, and joy. With the straightforward mind of a child who’s seen and heard a bit too much, she herself can be too much. About getting suspended she says,
Madame said I had one too many fights, which if I knew the exact number of fights I was supposed to have then there wouldn’t be this bullshit, I said.
This novel, with its stream-of-consciousness style, unfiltered raucous humor, and hard-won wisdom is the kind of reading that makes me evangelical. I adored the girl and the women in Fight Night and am grateful to Miriam Toews to bringing them so beautifully to life.
Like fiction about girls determined to take the world by storm? Try How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran another novel I loved.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).
*I received a free copy of this book from Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.*