By Julie Kish

Fight Night by Miriam Toews
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021

I must confess that I’m not often a fan of the books that are nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. My literary tastes usually differ from those of the coveted Canadian literary prize judges, but Miriam Toews’ newest novel, Fight Night, is the exception to the rule.

This remarkable book was shortlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize, was named 2021 best book of the year by The Globe and Mail, and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

The accolades are well deserved. The novel is a joy to read and, unlike most critically acclaimed books, is absolutely hilarious. The author’s witty prose and humorous sarcasm are delivered with the precision of a one-two punch.

The story is about a Toronto family consisting of three generations of women. It is narrated by the youngest member, Swiv, a precocious nine-year-old who is wise beyond her years. Her mother, Mooshie, is an actress in the advanced stages of pregnancy and is “moody as hell,” according to her daughter. Her grandmother, Elvira, is a frail but feisty woman who is determined to live life to the fullest and teach her granddaughter how to make her way in the world. Swiv’s father has taken off, and no one seems to know where he is.

When Swiv is expelled from school for fighting, her grandmother takes on the role of teacher and instructs her to write to her absent father and tell him everything going on in her life. Most of the novel consists of these unmailed letters describing life through a nine-year-old’s eyes. Her point-of-view makes for humorous observations: “Mom is having a complete nervous breakdown and a geriatric pregnancy, which doesn’t mean she’s going to push out an old geezer….”

The three principal characters are richly developed, but the story’s heart is the relationship between Swiv and her grandmother. Swiv helps her invalid grandmother with pretty much everything, and she is rewarded with priceless life lessons taught through the elderly matriarch’s hilarious stories.

Spending time with these three women will push the reader from one hilarious scene to the next, but it will also pull at the heartstrings and leave the reader with a strong sense of love and hope.

Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer and author of nine books, including A Complicated Kindness (2004) and All My Puny Sorrows (2014), both shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. A film adaptation of her novel Women Talking (2018), directed by Sarah Polley and starring Frances McDormand, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.