by Miriam Toews
I usually give a book to the 10% mark, maybe 15% before deciding to keep going or pitch it; life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. I started to really hate Fight Night at around the 60% mark, but stayed with it because I had invested the time. I’m glad I held out because the ending was worth the wait, but maaann… it was a tough slog to get there.
Fight Night is narrated by 9-year-old Swiv, a precocious girl who keeps getting kicked out of school. Swiv lives with her Mom and kooky Russian grandmother Elvira. Mom is quite pregnant, Dad is… somewhere, it’s never clear if he has bailed or something else. Grandma is not in the greatest of health and Swiv acts as her personal carer in a way, to the point that they embark on a trip to California together where much hilarity ensues.
My problem is with the narration… Swiv is much too wise and worldly for 9, too responsible for herself and Elvira, and the whole story, written as a letter to Swiv’s father, is just so intense in its energy that, despite nothing much happening for the first 60% of the novel, it’s exhausting just to get through. Fans of Canadian theatre might get the jist if I say it’s like a book written in the style of “I, Claudia”, without any of the funny catch-phrases.
That is, a child who never stops talking. I mostly just wanted Swiv to shut up for a bit. Or at least slow down.
Toews does make it worth the effort by bringing everything together at the climax, and the reader finally gets the chance to go, ah, I see where this is going now, but even the ending is wholly predictable once it is clear what’s going on. But you’ll still need to re-read the last quarter of the book again because the voice of Swiv just goes a mile a minute and there’s so much action to miss if you don’t take care to catch it all.
Fight Night wants to work that “3 generations of women” thing, but it feels cynical, like someone at the publishing company said “Hey, you know what people like? Books about 3 generations of women! You should do one of those!” and Toews agreed but was intent on putting her own spin on it.
I didn’t hate it, and it got where it wanted to go, but even with the action-packed ending, Fight Night left me drained in a way that a book shouldn’t do. I need a nap or a nice hot bath behind a locked door to recover from it.