I received an Advance Readers’ Copy of this book thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
Swiv is 9-years-old. She lives with her mother, who is in her third trimester of pregnancy, and her grandmother. Swiv is writing a letter to her dad, who has recently disappeared out of their lives. This is an assignment given to her by her grandmother after Swiv is expelled from school. The letter conceit is easily forgotten but it gives us an excuse to get deep into Swiv’s head and her perspective. She is just on the cusp of the age where she is beginning to be deeply embarrassed by the adults around her while still loving them intensely. With a very pregnant mother and an aging grandmother, Swiv feels it is her responsibility to keep everyone alive and make sure things run smoothly.
This is a story light on plot and heavy on character. Swiv, her mother, and especially her grandmother are all larger than life characters. Swiv’s mother and grandmother each have their own traumas and fears that they carry with them, things that Swiv is not yet entirely aware of.
In my opinion, it’s really the character of the grandmother who carries this novel. She is vivacious and eccentric. She knows she is closer to the end of her life than the beginning and lives accordingly, in spite of Swiv’s constant concerns. She is a woman who has a broad and vivd history, entirely believable even when we aren’t given the details. Readers of Toews’ work will recognize the Mennonite background that Elvira comes from. Where other books by Toews have focused on strict and traditional Mennonite communities, here we see a woman who has left beyond the restrictions and abuses of her former community so that our narrator, Swiv, knows almost nothing of what that environment can be like.
Another theme found here that is shared with Toews previous work (notably All My Puny Sorrows) is suicide. Both Swiv’s grandfather and aunt committed suicide, something that haunts Swiv’s grandmother and mother. In some ways, this is the fight that the title of the book references – a constant fight to stay in your own life, to battle against the forces that might bring you down, whether those are surrounding you or within you. Part of the fight, as we see through the mother and grandmother, is done on behalf of the children who may follow behind you.
Readers who love Toews’ work will find Fight Night very much in line with her previous work, full of new characters to love.