cover image Fight Night

Fight Night

Miriam Toews. Bloomsbury, $24 (272p) ISBN 978-1-63557-817-1

Toews (Women Talking) continues her consideration of the theme of women’s self-determination in this indelible and darkly hilarious portrait of an unforgettable Toronto family. Framed as a long letter to eight-year-old Swiv’s absent father in her brisk, matter-of-fact voice, it also features letters to her mother and others. After being expelled from school for fighting, she grows closer to her larger-than-life grandmother, Elvira, who “has one foot in the grave” and dives into homeschooling with gusto, convening so-called editorial meetings and devising assignments to write letters to one another. Meanwhile, Swiv’s mother, Mooshie, a pregnant actor, is prone to dramatic and sometimes violent mood swings, leading Swiv to fear Mooshie might succumb to the same mental illness that led to her aunt’s and grandfather’s suicides. The harder-edged Mooshie, who wants a “cold IPA and a holiday” for her birthday, and the exuberant Elvira, are both brash and fearless, traits that alternately embarrass and inspire Swiv. Through these women’s letters and stories, readers glimpse histories of grief, loss, and abuse, making Grandma’s assertion that “joy... is resistance” even more powerful. The moving conclusion, which has its roots in a plan for Swiv and Elvira to visit family members in California, shuns sentimentality and celebrates survival. Fierce and funny, this gives undeniable testimony to the life force of family. It’s a knockout. (Oct.)