I have not been able to stop thinking about it ... It’s impossible as you read this novel to not compare the action and characters with Toews’ real world, and yet at the same time, you become so sucked into this fictional world that you forget everything else ... Fight Night’s Elvira is also an incredible, relentless resilient life force. Readers will fall in love with her this summer—and long afterward.
... brilliant ... she triumphs over a tough assignment: to write an entire novel in the voice of a child ... Toews gives Swiv a voice that is sophisticated, childlike and utterly believable ... The novel features a supporting cast of men that allows Toews to comment on examples of the patriarchy at work ... This material could have been strident, but the wonder of Fight Night is that it’s a warmhearted and inventive portrait of women who have learned to fight against adversity.
In Elvira...Swiv has a soothing vision of adulthood ... Her irrepressibility is remarkable for all that she has lived through, but the hijinks of an effervescent senior, rendered in the voice of a wisecracking child, can verge on the too-cute ... it’s Elvira’s determination to crawl back from the abyss that Toews stresses most: 'She had to ask herself how she would survive grief and her answer was Who can I help?' However admirable a creed, this hints at a cloying tendency in Fight Night that threatens to undermine the novel’s subtler explorations of family dysfunction ... Fight Night is littered with imperatives ... Occasionally they are electrifying ... But the novel’s many lines about fighting more often have the ring of a truism, or a self-help affirmation taped to a bathroom mirror ... The Fresno scenes are some of Fight Night’s strongest, so it’s a shame the trip proves to be a short-lived diversion ... nearly all tenderness. The uncompromising forces that typically counterbalance Toews’s softness—melancholia, the violence of men’s wills—are relegated to the background or too easily surmounted. Still, there’s great pathos in watching a writer as gifted as Toews turn the same losses over and over as if looking for some way to redeem them on the page, knowing all the while that there isn’t.
There’s a reason Ted Lasso swept the Emmys this year. After an exceptionally exhausting two years that felt more like two decades, people need to laugh and be reminded of what’s worth fighting for ... I was reminded of this while reading Fight Night, the latest novel by Miriam Toews, which can veer from endearing to obvious to moving in a single chapter. On the whole, it’s a touching tribute to the matrilineal bond among three women of different generations ... Darkness lurks in Fight Night too. But where Jansson’s story was leavened by vivid writing on the natural world, Toews’ is buoyed by a grandmother’s defiant sense of humor ... Toews’ greatest talent lies in creating messy and lovable characters — the kind of people you’d want on your team (or coaching your team) if you were in a fight. Not because they are the strongest, but because somewhere inside themselves they’ve found the energy to keep moving forward.
Despite the timeliness of Toews’ story – it resonates with #MeToo and calls to 'Smash the patriarchy' – Fight Night is the farthest thing imaginable from a political diatribe. Toews, who began her writing career making radio documentaries, has created a vibrant, mostly female ensemble of eccentric, endearing voices, girls and women doing their best to stand up to the Willit Brauns of the world. Even the minor characters spring to life on the page ... With Swiv, Toews has perfectly captured the spongelike way kids absorb the language of adults while retaining their fundamental innocence ... Moving back and forth in time through her characters’ fragmentary memories, Toews has written a big-hearted, briskly paced family saga about the extraordinary love that binds three generations of free-spirited women together, and the tools and techniques that they’ve had to develop to survive.
Four females of different ages and stages will be in for the fight of their lives that night. If you suspect one will be retiring from life’s ring, that’s not a spoiler. Miriam Toews will make you cheer and sob for all concerned in her richly imagined Fight Night.
I’ve heard it theorized that every great artist circles her own central fire, a core trauma too bright and too hot to touch yet whose light is caught, refracted, in her works. Miriam Toews gets so close to the fire that the pages of her books may as well be singed ... She is the kind of writer for whom the act of writing is clearly more important than being read. Her books are an excavation, an attempt to give shape to her own pain, like a moth who longs to catch the candlelight in its wings ... Toews is a master of dialogue, and she swirls the adults’ perspectives through Swiv’s imperfect ventriloquism as if she were mixing paints ... The reader is pulled into the intimacy of a dysfunctional family whose unconditional love would make any truly dysfunctional family jealous ... This book lives so much further from the flame than some of Toews’s others that the sweet threatens to overpower the bitter, to edge toward the saccharine. The pregnant mother, the dying grandmother — the end is in sight from the beginning, and Toews doesn’t steer away from a climax that knots the bow too perfectly ... If the book’s overwhelming tenderness makes the reader cry, they’ll be, as Swiv’s mother teaches her, 'tears of happiness.'
It is clear Toews is a strong writer who can craft a compelling narrative, but the stream-of-consciousness style wasn’t for me. It required a great deal of work to parse the voice of a nine-year-old, and while some may find that charming, I did not. I suppose Toews could be attempting to parallel how hard it is to grow up and live a happy life by making the reading of her book so challenging, but that parallel didn’t land in a positive way for me. That said, the three generations in the novel...do live a life that can be interesting at times. The descriptive detail was lacking to the point of making it hard to picture the world in which they live and the characters themselves. The ending was entirely predictable given the conceit of the letters, and while it did take the position that growing up is tough for everyone, that universal truth was not rendered in a compelling way.
Fight Night is narrated by Swiv, in the form of a letter to her missing father — a pair of risks that (mostly) pay off. Toews is a master of voice, and Swiv's, with its mix of precocious parroting of Mooshie and Elvira and exasperation with them, is one that I could read forever ... In Toews's hands, mundanity teems with comic detail ... The journey to this dark place is brief, and part of me wished for more dwelling in the hardest parts of these women's lives — a kind of reflection that a nine-year-old, even one who has seen as much as Swiv, cannot provide. But, as Elvira says, 'To be alive means full body contact with the absurd. Still, we can be happy.' This is an apt mission statement for Toews's body of work. Fight Night makes an ardent, hilarious, and moving addition.
... a loose, unbuttoned work in contrast, more interested in colorful character studies than coherent plotting ... aims for hopefulness, as well, extracting a kind of madcap euphoria from the most painful struggles. 'Joy is resistance,' Swiv’s grandmother tells her, and if the motto can feel cutesy it inspires lovely moments of tenderness and humor.
Toews continues her consideration of the theme of women’s self-determination in this indelible and darkly hilarious portrait of an unforgettable Toronto family ... Through these women’s letters and stories, readers glimpse histories of grief, loss, and abuse, making Grandma’s assertion that 'joy... is resistance' even more powerful. The moving conclusion, which has its roots in a plan for Swiv and Elvira to visit family members in California, shuns sentimentality and celebrates survival. Fierce and funny, this gives undeniable testimony to the life force of family. It’s a knockout.
Swiv’s narrative voice, by turns angry, sardonic, and full of both love and exasperation for her mother and grandmother, provides much of the charm and appeal of the novel. Elvira is a force of nature, charming everyone around her with her zest for life. Despite the dark elements in the story, the humor and love between the characters shine through. Recommended.
... uproarious, tender, and wise ... Swiv’s understanding of Elvira’s past is a mythologized story that matches her grandmother’s outsized, fighting spirit. The hilarious situations in which she and Elvira find themselves are testimonials to embracing life, and Swiv’s youthful pronouncements on life, death, and love hit the mark ... Toews’ multigenerational family story of this trio of women barrels to a slapstick, touching, cycle-of-life ending. Elvira espouses an uplifting legacy: the wisdom that we’re born with a light inside of us; that our job is to not let it go out; and that our ancestors are ahead of us to light the path.