Fear of Fighting, Stacey May Fowles’ second novel, is as gut-wrenching as it is delightful. Fowles navigates the devastating terrain of a broken heart with grace, humour, and wit.
The novel’s protagonist, a diffident Torontonian in her late twenties named Marnie, is a cutter and a hypochondriac, and possibly an alcoholic. She works a drab job, shredding the personal files of people she’s never met and never will. In the aftermath of a romantic break-up, she avoids friends, responsibility, and personal hygiene, and keeps lists of the diseases she probably has, or is about to get.
Marnie’s gritty, unabashedly candid first-person narration weaves between past and present. The chapters are brief, and many of them have sufficient substance to stand alone, which is one of the novel’s best features. Marnie’s next-door neighbour drops in with self-help books that Marnie doesn’t read, but their relationship is never fully explored and it is not entirely clear what his role in the narrative is.
Fear of Fighting is not plot-driven. It doesn’t wrap up neatly, and a knight in shining armour doesn’t appear to heal Marnie’s broken heart. Instead, it is a collection of insignificant moments that, when placed next to one another, are infused with meaning.
Fowles’ protagonist is sometimes excessively indulgent about her own troubles, and therefore not entirely likable, but many readers will find her embarrassingly recognizable. We have all wallowed in self-pity following the failure of a relationship, and Fowles captures those months of obsession and regret with power and insight. Marlena Zuber’s incidetal illustrations are not essential to the book, as they would be in, say, a graphic novel, but they are very charming, nonetheless.