READERS TELL ALL.
Big surprise here: Writers can save lives. I know that Miriam Toews has saved my life twice. First, after multiple attempts to take my own life, All My Puny Sorrows became the book that seemed to redeem me, that put the humor in mental illness, and made it so real. Some claimed it was a book with no plot (although still genius) that only Toews could make work, and perhaps that's true. Her most recent book, other than the upcoming Fight Night, is Women Talking, the plainly worded title that features one of the most marvelous books of the century so far. We see women discussing men who have raped them in their sleep, and the impossible consequences they have to face-all while coping with this humor, and me coping with being sexually and physically assaulted, and seeing a sort of joy in life past the destruction. This is not a Mitch Album novel. I do not mean her humor makes the wound better. I mean the humor makes the wound real, something we modern people (especially Americans) cannot seem to understand--that we can hurt, that we can change, that we can evolve, and all of this is OK. In her new book Fight Night, which I found less charming but still better than most other books because it is, after all, Miriam Toews, she talks about the life of a young girl (told from this girl's POV) that echoes the voice and influence of writers like Aimee Bender (who is also a favorite writer, a phenomenal storyteller, and the one woman I have always wanted to be best friends with--but doesn't everyone?). The book focuses largely on three generations: grandmother, mother, granddaughter, and the mother being quiet while the grandmother may be dying, and may even wish to die. In some ways a challenge to Jojo Moyes' Me Before You, but also in agreement with it to an extent, Toews writes about the end of suffering, the peace you can find within. Don't go me wrong. The book is fairly predictable, the characters are dynamic but life changing, and this rates nowhere near her other novels. However, I don't think anyone could have kept me captivated for so many pages with really no sturdy plot outside of Toews, who presents to us a young girl learning about the world, but more importantly seeing and understanding more clearly through her seeing but not understanding. We learn about life because she is unable to wrap her mind around concepts, because she is trying to figure things out, and because she lives in pop culture sometimes, in the legends her grandmother tells earnestly and others completely fabricated. The book is what you expect, but it's how Toews tells the story that's what makes the book unique. Her voice, as well as the voice of Swiv, the protagonist, is so unique, and the characters we see like with the grandmother are so interesting, including the grandmother's willingness to live forever despite wanting to die to avoid pain and suffering. All of this is understandable, along with her mother who can be hilarious and heartbreaking at times, the secrets we learn about her, the honesty in her life, and also the lack of male characters for most of the book is a definite plus. The book is a slick read--slick being one of the few words to be able to describe it, with Toews focusing on sliding through a story and a life and letting the reader propel too, despite the lack of a strict plot, but isn't that life? Isn't this how life goes, and isn't this how life ends? To be cliche: and does it end? Because if the universe is infinite, there is no beginning, and there is no end, and no matter what you believe, the idea of infinite provides the reader with some sort of grace much needed in times like these. Preorder/buy the novel here. Buy Aimee Bender's most recent novel here. Both novels are brilliant, lovely, wonderful, and enlightening, and it's hard to imagine a better use of your dollars (if you have some spare change around) spent on anything more unique and special than books by Toews, and also Bender as well. (Please note both have multiple books you should check out.)