Book Review: Fight Night by Miriam Toews

I am a fan of Miriam Toews, a Canadian writer whose characters and stories are often derived from her experiences growing up in a strict Mennonite community outside Toronto (a religion and life which she ultimately rejected).  It clearly was not a joyous upbringing.  Toews was also scarred by the suicide of her father and her sister, and the impact of suicide is also a recurring theme in her work.   

You would think these source materials would make her books dark and depressing, but the ones I have read by her are darkly funny, and have strong, intelligent women protagonists.  The one exception I can name would be her 2018 novel, Women Talking, which a serious work of fiction about the real life horrors endured by women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia.

Fight Night is her latest novel. It is a quirky, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny story about a multigenerational trio of strong, spirited, and somewhat dysfunctional women.  Swiv, the main narrator, is a precocious nine-year old girl who has been kicked out of school for fighting.  Mooshie, her mother, is pregnant, by whom is not known, and preoccupied with her life in the theater.  Mooshie also appears to be mentally unstable, and this is sort of a mystery for most of the book.  She leaves Swiv with her mother, Elvira, who is fighter of a different sort – a survivor who rages against the vicissitudes of old age.  In Swiv and Elvira, Toews has created a very entertaining duo.  They care for each other as they both quietly worry about death and abandonment, and they take in little life lessons during their rather ordinary days together.

There isn’t much plot in the first part – we come to understand the characters and their many trials and tribulations through their conversations with each other and through Swiv’s very humorous narrations.  In the second half, Swiv and Elvira fly to Fresno, California to reconnect with some elderly cousins and have some more entertaining misadventures before returning home to Mooshie, who is nearing her due date.  A funny but very bittersweet ending ensues.    

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