Fight Night

Miriam Toews

Fight Night
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Fight Night

Miriam Toews

You are a small thing, and you must learn to fight.


Swiv has taken her grandmother’s advice too literally. Now she’s at home, suspended from school. Mom is pregnant and preoccupied - and so Swiv is in the older woman’s charge, receiving a very different form of education from a teacher with a style all her own.

Grandma likes her stories fast, troublesome and funny. She’s known the very worst that life can throw at you - and has met it every time with a wild, unnamable spirit, fighting for joy and independence every step of the way. But will maths lessons based on Amish jigsaws and classes on How to Dig a Winter Grave inspire the same fire in Swiv, and ensure it never goes out?

Time is running short. Grandma’s health is failing, the baby is on the way, as a family of three extraordinary women prepare to face life’s great changes together.

‘Sets standards for grandmotherly swearing and outspokenness I can never hope to match. Go Grandma Elvira!’ - Margaret Atwood

Fight Night is glorious: funny and sad and beautifully written.’ - Sarah Moss

Review

Suspended from school for fighting, nine-year- old Swiv is kicking around with her exuberant grandma Elvira, an anarchic rebel with a wild anecdote for every occasion. Swiv’s mother Mooshie is busy rehearsing for a play and raging through a pregnancy; her husband is M.I.A., which leaves only Swiv and Elvira to keep an eye on her and each other. The book is narrated by the exasperated Swiv, who shirks at her grandma’s bawdiness and her mother’s antics, but she also loves them dearly and makes sure Elvira always has the necessary nitro spray and pills for her heart condition. Elvira makes friends everywhere, demonstrating fearlessness, joy and love is the best means of survival in a hostile world.

From the outset, you can’t help being immediately enthralled by Miriam Toews’ character-forward book. With the plot feeling more like a series of capers, or a beloved sitcom, the story often borders on absurdity and is frequently hilarious and exhilarating.

Tonally, Fight Night is a very different beast from Toews’ previous novel, Women Talking, but those familiar with her work and life will recognise how it riffs on the topics she knows intimately and is known for: the women in this book know suicide and mental illness, and Elvira has stepped away from oppressive religion and patriarchy. I felt that this book, in the way it portrays love and fearlessness, offers a glimpse into how we might best care for loved ones who endure grief, mental illness or physical disability without being cloying or overbearing. This is an extraordinarily funny and moving novel about the resilience of women, and reading it made me feel so happy and hopeful.

Kim Gruschow is the co-manager of Readings St Kilda

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