Fight Night

by Miriam Toews

Hardcover, 2021

Call number




Bloomsbury Publishing (2021), 272 pages


Fiction. Literature. From the bestselling author of Women Talking and All My Puny Sorrows, a compassionate, darkly humorous, and deeply wise new novel about three generations of women. "You're a small thing," Grandma writes, "and you must learn to fight." Swiv's Grandma, Elvira, has been fighting all her life. From her upbringing in a strict religious community, she has fought those who wanted to take away her joy, her independence, and her spirit. She has fought to make peace with her loved ones when they have chosen to leave her. And now, even as her health fails, Grandma is fighting for her family: for her daughter, partnerless and in the third term of a pregnancy; and for her granddaughter Swiv, a spirited nine-year-old who has been suspended from school. Cramped together in their Toronto home, on the precipice of extraordinary change, Grandma and Swiv undertake a vital new project, setting out to explain their lives in letters they will never send. Alternating between the exuberant, precocious voice of young Swiv and her irrepressible, tenacious Grandma, Fight Night is a love letter to mothers and grandmothers, and to all the women who are still fighting-painfully, ferociously- for a way to live on their own terms.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Swiv is not sure who is crazier, her mom or her grandma. Both have their ups and downs, though her mom’s downs are hard to navigate. Whereas her grandma is never far from laughter. But maybe her mom is crazy because she’s pregnant with Gord, who might be a boy or a girl but is definitely a
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Gord. And where is Swiv’s father in the midst of all this intergenerational womanly angst and excitement? He’s nowhere to be found. So Swiv has taken on the task of writing to him to tell him about what is going on.

Miriam Toews has created a vibrant and memorable pre-adolescent with Swiv. What she lacks in knowledge (having been expelled from school), she more than makes up for in sheer bloody-mindedness. There is a strength in Swiv. And despite the emotional rollercoaster she takes everyone on, there is strength in Swiv’s mom. Everyone says so. And without a doubt their strength has its roots in Swiv’s grandma, who exhilarates in life, even though life is ridiculous.

There is a lot to like in these three women. Though I’m not sure there is enough here to hold together a well-knit story. Or rather, there is so much baggage in tow that it’s hard for the characters in the present to move forward under their own steam. Does that make sense? Whatever. You’ll end up staying with the story because of Swiv and just let the pieces fall where they will.

Very gently recommended.
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LibraryThing member jillrhudy
Thanks to Macmillan Publishing for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

"Fight Night" is a letter to her absent father, by a child named Swiv, (mostly, there are also interpolated homework assignments). Swiv is being made to grow up way too fast in a household with no boundaries and too
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much information. This novel is first-person full-throttle stream of consciousness, about a family of three generations of females who are facing significant mental and emotional challenges in a family that has already seen two suicides. They are in a continual fight to live life on their own terms. Swiv has been expelled from school for fighting and has the full-time care of her grandmother, Elvira, who is quite a handful. Elvira is directing Swiv's very unorthodox education with classes such as Sudoku and Speed Cooking. Swiv's mother is a sometime actress who is frequently either having meltdowns or attending rehearsals while nine months pregnant with a baby they just call "Gord." Hold on tight for plenty of confusion, narrative distance, and outright hilarity as Swiv frantically tries to navigate her unhinged and unpredictable life.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
This was my monthly read with Angela and Esil, and I'm the outlier with my rating. The book is a letter that eight year old Swiv is writing her father. The father who disappeared from their lives. She lives with her grandmother, Elvira, who is a hoot. Nothing gets her down, everything is an
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adventure, and her mother, who is a stage actress. This is a funny book but after a while I felt the humor was too much, overkill. Also question whether a child as young as this could or should have had the responsibililitybwith which she was charged. Swiv is often stressed, anxious and that's not a normal nor necessary state for a child. She is treated as an adult and at times seemed more grown-up than the grown-ups. There is, however, a great deal of love in this little family as the ending portrays.

ARC from Edelweiss
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LibraryThing member mdoris
What a great book! It is the story of family, a crazy loving family. Not mush happens other than the daily grind of family life told through the eyes of a 9 year old girl living with a zingy gramma and a busy pregnant mom. Dad is missing in action. The fun, the chaos the love are so well portrayed.
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I loved the language with so many expressions used part of my own. I feel some biographical info must have sifted into the story based on other of Toews' books I have read. The book was unique and moving and playful!
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
Told from the perspective of a young girl living in Toronto, "Fight Night" showcases an unusual family. Unfortunately, there just wasn't quite enough action in the narrative to keep me totally engaged. I also found some of the humor a bit strained. Having said that, Toews is a talented writer who
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offers revealing insights into the relationships between a nine-year-old girl, her mom and her grandmother.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
An excellent coming-of-age story about 3 generations of women. The youngest is the narrator. At times, she doesn't think like a 9-yr-old, but a funny novel with some great action.
LibraryThing member Overgaard
funniest book she's written - could have read another hour of it - easily!
LibraryThing member icolford
Endurance after catastrophic loss has long been a theme in Miriam Toews’ fiction. In Fight Night she introduces Swiv, passionate and precocious nine-year-old daughter of enormously pregnant Mooshie and grand-daughter of rickety octogenarian Elvira. Swiv narrates in a tireless effervescent voice,
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describing the often comic antics of her grandmother and her mother’s erratic, simmering stew of moods. Swiv’s spirited narrative is framed as a letter to her absent father, who has taken off and gone who knows where. In addition to her father, Swiv has lost her grandfather and her Aunt Momo (Mooshie’s sister), both to suicide, and the need to share with her father every detail of their lives is driven in part by a perfectly reasonable fear that future losses may be in the cards. The first half of the book (“Home”) takes place in the Toronto house and the neighbourhood where the three live. Swiv has been expelled from school for fighting and while Mooshie pursues her acting career at a playhouse (for Mooshie, being pregnant is not an obstacle to getting up on stage), Swiv is watched over by the imperturbably philosophical Elvira, who is keen to provide her grand-daughter with life lessons in survival. In part two (“Away”), Elvira, motivated perhaps by premonitions of mortality, takes Swiv with her on a trip to Fresno, California, for a last visit with her hippie relatives. Where Swiv and Elvira are concerned, it’s frequently hard to tell who’s caring for whom. Swiv obsesses over Elvira’s medications—the daily ritual seems to involve Swiv scrambling around on the kitchen floor to retrieve the pills that Elvira’s dropped (“Bombs away!”)—and worries that the ebullient Elvira routinely puts herself at risk by ignoring the physical limits that age and frailty impose (while in California, Elvira breaks her arm and loses a tooth when she topples over while dancing). Looming over the women’s lives is the shadowy figure of Willit Braun, the sanctimonious leader of the church that Mooshie and Elvira were born into and escaped: a despotic and vengeful presence that stands in for all that is oppressive and unjust in a world dominated by men. The loosely structured story that Swiv relates is both heartbreaking and relentlessly entertaining. Despite action that often borders on slapstick, the love that binds these women into a tight family unit—together with their devotion to each other and determination to survive—shines through. In Fight Night Miriam Toews has once again written a story about tough female characters betrayed by men, women who have pushed through the mantle of oppression and emerged strong and whole.
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LibraryThing member rmarcin
Delightful novel about Swiv, a precocious 9 year old, and the story of her life with her grandmother who is teaching Swiv to fight for what is right. It also tells the story of Swiv’s mother and her pregnancy with Gord, The nickname they gave the unborn child.
I truly enjoyed this story, and hope
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that every family could experience the love like Swiv and her grandmother have for each other.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
I haven't always liked Miriam Toews books. A Complicated Kindness ended up being too complicated for me. I liked the quirky humour of The Flying Troutmans but none of that humour was evident in Women Talking which was important but disturbing. With Fight Night I think Ms Toews has gotten then
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balance between humour and important issues just right.

Nine year old Swiv narrates the book which is an extended letter to her absent father. Swiv, her mother, who is in the third trimester (or as Swiv likes to say third try, mister) of a late in life pregnancy, and her grandmother live together in a house in Toronto. Swiv has been suspended from school for fighting so she and Grandma spend a lot of time together. Grandma isn't in the best of health. She takes many pills each day, many of which end up on the floor for Swiv to pick up. She has hearing aids and is always dropping the batteries for them on the floor as well. Swiv's mother, Mooshie, is an actress and is in rehearsals every day. She comes home exhausted and is often angry and/or depressed. Swiv's aunt and her grandfather committed suicide and Swiv is always worried her mother is going to repeat their fate. We never do learn where Swiv's father is. Maybe he is off on a bender as there are quite a few references to him drinking. Or maybe he is in rehab. It's not clear if Mooshie and Grandma knows where he is. If they do they certainly aren't telling Swiv. Cementing these three together is great love.They also want the baby, whom they all call Gord even though they don't know the sex of the baby, to come into a welcoming world. Each of them write a letter to Gord. Grandma's tells the baby "You're a small thing and you must learn to fight." Grandma and Mooshie and Swiv are all fighters. The reader just knows that Gord will be allright.

There's quite a bit of autobiographical detail in this book. For instance, Toews lives in Toronto in a multi-generational home that includes her mother. She also had a sister and a father who committed suicide. I'm sure writing is a form of therapy for her but she also shows how mental health issues can affect a whole family. Society tends to want to ignore or shun people with mental health issues but we should be treating them and their close ones.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
When I first picked up this book and browsed through it, I was confused by what I was reading, but as the novel started to clarify itself and make me laugh out loud, I could not put it down. This book is hilarious! It’s the story of Swiv, a young girl in Toronto, Canada, and her daily life with
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her pregnant Mom and her Grandma.

I simply fell in love with Grandma! I spent lots of time during my read of this book writing down “Grandma said...” quotes. Her outlook on life as an older person with all of its complications was both familiar and refreshing. It always brought a smile to my face if not a true belly laugh.

I think this is a really nice look at aging with a lovable individual with many of the characteristics defining an older person, but one who has a good but realistic outlook at life. I especially loved the bond between Grandma and her granddaughter Swiv. I never had the good fortune to know either of my own grandmothers but feel blessed to have grandchildren of my own. It’s a very special bond.

I was fascinated by Grandma’s secret language and did some research to find out that it was Plautdietsch, a language spoken by Russian Mennonites. Some of the phrases were similar to German so I could figure it out a bit.

One of the most interesting parts of reading this novel was concurrently reading biographical information about its author, Miriam Toews, who put much of her real life experience and emotional baggage into her fiction.

I highly recommend this book, and look forward to reading other works by this author.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
We meet the precocious and unrepentant Swiv, suspended from school for fighting. Although in the beginning she is a bit of a mystery, as the novel progresses, she is referred to a girl, often mistaken as a boy, and she calculates her age in months which makes her approximately nine years old.

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mother is an actress who returned from a European gig pregnant, leading to the departure of her father. Swiv’s mom doesn’t have much time for Swiv, leaving her to the care of her unquenchable but frail 80 plus year old grandmother.

Swiv spends her time at home with her grandmother, accomplishing the unique homeschooling lessons her grandmother assigns as well as holding the family together with mundane tasks such as cleaning and gathering her grandmother’s constantly spilled pills off the kitchen floor.

At first I though this book entirely strange and wondered why I continued reading it. But in the end, I was captured by the humor, strength and loyalty of these three generations of fiercely independent and feisty women.

Families come in many shapes and sizes.

For me, the original and fearless Swiv is reminiscent of Harper Lee's iconic character Scout, updated for a new generation.
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LibraryThing member MaggieFlo
This is about a very tight knit family consisting of adolescent Swiv, Mom and Grandma (Elvira). They all live in grandma’s house. For unexplained reasons, Swiv is not in school is being educated in a very unconventional way by Mom and Grandma. Mom is an actress and is in her third trimester with
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unborn Gord while going to rehearsals for a play.
There’s a lot of energy, past trauma, hugs,laughing,screaming and other emotions among the three women. Grandma is the centre of the story and she is a very outgoing Type A personality who makes friends easily and talks to everyone. Her background is very sad but this is where the title comes from…learning to fight for survival, happiness, goodness, strength, optimism and believing in the importance of family.
Ok, not what I would call great writing or characters
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LibraryThing member booklove2
A kooky, spirited book. I think Toews has had a lot of sadness and hardship in her life, so she can really bring that humor to balance the sadness when she needs to. The book follows Swiv, a nine year old (and interestingly the nickname of a character in 'All My Puny Sorrows' as well), Swiv's mom
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and Swiv's grandma Elvira. All being quite the characters. Swiv tries to take care of her family, full of fighters, as they contend with the histories of mental illness among other family members (much like 'All My Puny Sorrows'). I adore the humor of Toews. I loved all the references, all appropriate to a nine year old (Boxcar Children, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Incredible Journey). 'All My Puny Sorrows' and 'Fight Night' could also be read as a pair, side by side. It's interesting the themes and characters are so similar between both books, yet somehow the books seem so different in the long run, possibly because this one is from the perspective of a nine year old writing to her MIA father. I would set this on the shelf beside 'In Concrete' by Anne Garréta.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Story of three generations of women living together in Toronto. It is narrated by eight-year-old Swiv as a letter to her absent father. Her mother is pregnant and her eccentric and ebullient grandmother, Elvira, is in poor health. They have had mental illness and suicide in the family, and the fear
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of descending into depression seems to lurk below the surface, especially for Swiv’s mother. This is a character-driven story. The relationship between Swiv and her grandmother is especially poignant and one of the highlights of the book. They take a trip together and have several “adventures.” Elvira seems to experience occasional manic episodes and Swiv deals with all this the best she can. I think the young narrator comes across as a little too knowledgeable for her age. It is a story about the “circle of life.” It will appeal to those who like quiet character-driven stories with serious topics lurking beneath the surface.
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LibraryThing member oldblack
I laughed and I cried. Brilliant. I have loved Miriam Toews' work ever since the first book I read, but this is perhaps my favourite.
LibraryThing member japaul22
This was the first time I've read a book by [[Miriam Toews]]. It seemed like a good time with the movie based on her book [Women Talking] in the media. Unfortunately, I didn't really like it.

The premise is good. The book begins with three generations of women living together who are obviously in
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the midst of crisis. As the grandmother and granddaughter talk, it's slowly revealed that an aunt has committed suicide, the father has disappeared, the middle generation mother is pregnant and struggling, and for some reason the granddaughter is not in school though she's of the age to be.

The grandmother has a sarcastic, irreverent sense of humor, which I would normally love. And I did like it at first. She's honest about aging and tries to impart her life experience to her granddaughter, Swiv, with a dose of reality and humor. But it started to wear on me. So many exclamation points in the writing - I didn't like the tone that was coming out in my head as I read.

So I'll admit I skimmed the last 50 pages so I could move on to the next book.
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LibraryThing member Smits
What an amazing, odd, loveable, weird book. Toews creates amazing characters in Swiv, her grandma, her pregnant mother. The dialogue between Swiv and her grandma is poignant , hilarious , meaningful . The love between these two runs throughout the novel . We follow the story through the thought
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process of a little girl who experiences situations she’s really too young for. It’s both quite sad and totally hilarious .
A great read!
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
Hoooooooo! As grandmother Elvira would breathlessly exclaim.
Difficult to describe this book, other than to say that it is written in the first person, very loud and fast; it is full on, and is inordinately amusing. Very different from what I normally read, but allowing myself to go with the flow
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provided a blast of a read.
The story is narrated by Swiv, who is nine and has been suspended from school for being too argumentative. Swiv lives in Canada in an apartment with her mother (an actress) and grandmother, Elvira (a Russian emigré), who is the source of much of the book’s amusement and entertainment.
Although Elvira is an over the top character, she reminds me of my mother (!), so Toews is just amplifying the characteristics of an older person who has a reduced sensitivity to social embarrassment, will talk to anyone, and lives life.
Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Briars_Reviews
Fight Night by Miriam Toews is a delightful read following a nine-year-old Torontonian named Swiv. This young girl lives with her pregnant Mom and Grandma. All three of these women fight for their rights, in a variety of ways. This character study follows the three women, and we learn a lot about
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their background and how they view the world. Their character growth and journey in this book will make you smile, laugh, and most likely cry (like I did).

Miriam Toews is a master of the literary arts (in my opinion). This book moved me, grabbed me, pulled me in, and kept me there until the end. I will definitely be picking up more books from this marvellous author. Also, Canadian author alert! That made me so happy.

I highly recommend this book if you love Canadian authors, contemporary fiction, character studies, and easy reads. This book was such an easy read, and one I loved sinking back into. It truly is a gem!

Five out of five stars.
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LibraryThing member Dreesie
9-year-old Swiv lives in Canada with her pregnant mother and her grandmother, who has a heart condition and is generally not in good health--but is a firecracker nonetheless. Swiv is expelled and spends most of her days with her grandmother, who is teaching her things. her mother works, deals with
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morning sickness, her dream of being an actress, and her relationship with Swiv's dad.

I found this novel sweet but also exhausting, as I really don't love books narrated by children. They always come off as very precocious to me, because no matter how hard an author tries no adult can truly write a child. Maybe if I read this on paper I would have enjoyed it more.

I am also left wondering--when Swiv and her grandmother travel to Fresno to visit her mom's first cousins and one says something about being able to live in a garage year-round in California--was this meant to be a joke? Or is it a fundamental misunderstanding of Fresno's weather? It was unclear to me on audio.
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Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2023)
Scotiabank Giller Prize (Shortlist — 2021)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2022)




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