Recent reads

I just finished reading Miriam Toews’ Fight Night. I’d enjoyed Women Talking, and Fight Night is similar in theme albeit completely different in plot and tone.

Women Talking was a novel told in conversation: the minutes of a meeting where women from a Mennonite colony discuss what they should do after discovering they’ve been repeatedly drugged and raped in their beds by several men in the community. Should they stay and do nothing, flee, or fight? The novel sketches the personalities and relationships among the women, who in many ways live a life entirely alien to that of their fathers, husbands, and brothers. Whatever the women decide to do, they must decide together.

Fight Night shares this theme of female community, but in an entirely different context. Nine-year-old Swiv lives with her pregnant mother and sickly grandmother: a household of women. Swiv is precocious and feisty: she has been suspended from school for fighting, and it quickly becomes apparent where she gets her fire from.

Swiv’s mother, Mooshie, is an aspiring actress and single mother; Swiv’s grandmother, Elvira, is a freewheeling force of nature who talks to strangers, laughs in the face of pain, and regales her granddaughter with meandering stories of her youthful exploits, some of which might actually be true.

It is Elvira who tells Swiv she must learn how to fight, and it is Elvira who also encourages Swiv to write. Swiv’s family has a history of mental illness and suicide–many of Elvira’s stories center on people who are dead–and long after the family can no longer afford therapy sessions, Elvira holds “editorial meetings” where she encourages Swiv to write letters to her absent father in an attempt to make sense of her life.

Swiv is irrepressible and endearing. She clashes with her mother and adores her grandmother, chronicling their life together in a rollicking stream-of-consciousness Jack Kerouac would envy. Elvira is plucky, unapologetic, and entirely undaunted by physical ailments that require her to take fistfuls of pills each day. Even Gord, the unborn child who is taxing every last ounce of Mooshie’s energy and patience, has both presence and personality.

Whereas the women in Women Talking had to decide whether they wanted to flee or fight, in Fight Night it is clear that fleeing is never an option.