There are things one can reliably expect from a Miriam Toews novel: a precocious and disturbed child in a lead role, a mysteriously vanished family member, at least one suicide, and the ability to take subject matter of the darkest kind and illuminate it with joyful, razor-sharp humour.
Fight Night meets all these expectations, and then some. It is the funniest, most life-affirming and most virtuosic novel I expect to read this year. I doubt I’ll read a better novel, full stop.
Swiv is its nine-year-old protagonist, kooky, curious and wise beyond her years. She is suspended from school for scrapping – “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” – and is nominally in the care of her velour-tracksuited grandmother, Elvira (her heavily-pregnant actress mother swoops in and out, her father has disappeared).
Every sharply-turned sentence and passage of dialogue fizzes with invention, imparting the book a chaotic energy
In practice, the relationship works the other way round. Elvira is a huge character, both physically and in personality, so sick she survives only by consuming galactic amounts of pills each day, but showing blithe disregard for the prospect of death – “she says when she kicks the bucket I should just put her in a pickle jar and go outside and play already,” reports Swiv.
Poor Swiv has the task of helping her gran get around and even bathe: “I have to lift up her rolls of fat to get in the creases and even wash her giant butt and boobs and the bottom of her hard, crispy feet.” Meanwhile, Elvira cackles her way through what the reader knows to be borrowed time, passing on a wild lifetime’s worth of unconventional skills and wisdom to her grand-daughter.
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There is so much to love about Fight Night. Every sharply-turned sentence and passage of dialogue fizzes with invention, imparting the book a chaotic energy.