Author: Miriam Toews
Pub. Date: Aug. 2021 (read Oct. 2021)
My attempt to read a bunch of the Giller Prize longlist has been going so well this year! As a Canadian I always get excited about this list, but I’ve never dedicated so much time to working through the nominees before. I usually get more into Canada Reads in March, but I have to say, reading through the Giller nominees was a much more satisfying experience than I’ve ever had participating in Canada Reads. This just seemed to be a much more quality selection for me and I can say that I really liked everything I read!
In total I read 4 of the 12 nominees on the long list, but Fight Night was the only one I read that made it to the short list. I’ve been aware of Miriam Toews for a long time, but the only book of hers I’ve read is Women Talking, which I absolutely loved. I didn’t like Fight Night as much as that one, but I was so pleasantly surprised with this book! Because Women Talking tackles such a heavy topic, I think I was expecting something a little darker from this book – it was so lovely to read this humourous take on a multi-generational family instead.
Fight Night is told from the point of view of 9 year old Swiv. She has been expelled from school and as a result is living at home full time and being (somewhat) tutored by her grandmother. Her mother is pregnant and her father is missing; to help her process her circumstances and surroundings, her grandmother has her write letters to her unborn sibling “Gord”.
I’ll say upfront that I struggled a bit with Swiv’s voice – not that I found it hard to read or that I didn’t enjoy it – just that I struggled to believe she was actually 9 years old. She read a bit more mature to me and kept picturing her as a 12 year old rather than 9, but otherwise, this was such a sweet and fun book to read.
We get to spend time with Swiv, her mother, and her grandmother and I came to love each of them very dearly. Grandma has an incredible zest for like that immediately endears everyone around her, while her mother struggles with her mental health and missing husband. She loves Swiv fiercely and fights to stay strong for both her and Gord. It is an entirely character driven novel that captures a truly beautiful relationship between 3 generations of women.
I don’t have too much else to say about the novel except that it’s a great read if you’re ever feeling down and the humour is really what carried the book for me. I did think there were some structural weaknesses – one of my favourite parts was when Grandma recounts Swiv’s mother’s history for her while they’re on the plane to California, but I found the timing and delivery to be a bit awkward, like Toews knew what she wanted to include, but couldn’t find a graceful way to do it. Overall I could have done without the trip to California entirely and found it a bit distracting to the greater themes of the novel. I don’t think it’s the strongest of the nominees I read (I really would have liked to see The Strangers make it to the shortlist), but I would definitely still recommend Fight Night. Overall it was a joy to read!