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  • Tracy Sherlock

Fight Night: an action-packed multi-generational story told with humour, grace

Fight Night

By Miriam Toews

Penguin Random House

Get ready to meet Swiv, a nine-year-old girl who is being home schooled by her wacky, fun Grandma after being suspended from school for fighting. Her mom is busy, working as an actress in a play. Swiv’s mom is also pregnant, with a baby the family refers to as “Gord,” even though they don’t know yet if it’s a boy or a girl.

This multi-generational tour de force is told entirely from Swiv’s point of view and is written as a stream of consciousness, disguised as a letter to Swiv’s dad, who has left the family for reasons unknown to Swiv.

Swiv is both exuberant and anxious – her mind moving a mile a minute throughout the story, as she navigates fears of being left alone if her mother and grandmother die, her mother’s moods, which Swiv and Grandma refer to as “scorched earth,” and her own emotions, which are naïve as well as being wise beyond her years.

Swiv’s letter to her dad is assigned as homework by Grandma, so Swiv assigns Grandma to write a letter to the unborn Gord. “You’re a small thing and you must learn to fight,” Grandma writes to Gord. All three women are fighters, navigating their way in the world.

Grandma’s real name is Elvira, the same name as author Miriam Toews’ own mother. In the acknowledgements, Toews writes: “…to my revolutionary mother, Elvira Toews, for teaching me, ceaselessly, when to fight and how to love.”

Clearly, there are elements of biographical truth in this novel, as has been true of earlier Toews novels, such as All My Puny Sorrows, which reflected her real-life father and sister’s suicides. Fight Night is shortlisted for this year’s Giller Prize, while Canadian Toews has won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Writers Trust Marian Engel/Timothy Findley Award for other books.

Her most recent previous book, Women Talking, is being made into a movie starring Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley.

Fight Night is more light-hearted than either Women Talking or All My Puny Sorrows, but it’s equally as true and reflective of love and family. You won’t easily forget Swiv, or the two women raising her, and you will enjoy the ride.

Toews is a appearing at a sold-out Vancouver Writer’s Fest event on Oct. 23.

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