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'Fight Night' is a funny, sad tale of family dysfunction

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In Miriam Toews’ previous novel, “Women Talking,” the women of a Mennonite colony in Bolivia meet in secret to debate how they’ll respond to a series of horrific rapes. They decide to escape rather than to stay and fight.

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Her new novel, “Fight Night,” is all about that other option.

This is the story of three generations of women as told by the youngest of them – 9-year-old Swiv. She and her mother and grandmother live in Toronto, and we learn early on that they’re each battling demons of one sort or another. Swiv’s father is out of the picture. She’s been expelled from school for punching someone in the face. Her mother is heavily pregnant and still reeling from the deaths of her father and sister by suicide. And Swiv’s grandmother, Elvira, has health problems and is barely surviving on a cocktail of nitroglycerin and pure sass.

Elvira saws novels into easy-to-handle sections she can take on the bus. She continually asks Swiv about her bathroom habits. She scatters pills on the floor with a gleeful “Bombs away!” and strikes up conversations with every stranger she meets. In short, she’s mortifying – to her young granddaughter, anyway, who writes, “My family should never be out in the world.”

But mixed in with the dysfunction are lessons on how to endure terrible hardships. How to get back up when the world knocks you down. How to laugh, how to love. And how to fight. Toews’ novel is charming and tender and sad and inspiring, all wrapped up in a blast-the-patriarchy tone that most readers and book clubs would surely appreciate.

I know I did.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Before coming to KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Eagle, where she covered schools and a variety of other topics. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.