In her debut novel, Torch, bestselling author Cheryl Strayed weaves a searing and luminous tale of a family’s grief after unexpected loss. “Work hard. Do good. Be incredible!” is the advice Teresa Rae Wood shares with the listeners of her local radio show, Modern Pioneers, and the advice she strives to live by every day. She has fled a bad marriage and rebuilta life with her children, Claire and Joshua, and their caring stepfather, Bruce. Their love for each other binds them as a family through the daily struggles of making ends meet. But when they received unexpected news that Teresa, only 38, is dying of cancer, their lives all begin to unravel and drift apart. Strayed’s intimate portraits of these fully human characters in a time of crisis show the varying truths of grief, forgiveness, and the beautiful terrors of learning how to keep living.
A family founders after a mother’s death in Strayed’s beautifully observed debut. Teresa Rae Wood was a teen mother and an abused wife who escaped to Minnesota, fell in love, raised good kids and started hosting a radio program called Modern Pioneers . “Work hard. Do good. Be incredible,” Teresa tells her listeners, because that’s what she does—until she’s diagnosed with cancer and learns she has only months to live. As her loving common-law husband, Bruce, and her children, Claire (a bright, responsible college senior), and Josh, (a brooding 17-year-old), face Teresa’s dying and death, Strayed shows how grief can divide people when they need each other the most. Bruce vows to kill himself, but then stumbles into a marriage with his neighbor; Claire drops out of school, cheats on her boyfriend and stops eating; Josh sells drugs and falls in love with a girl he quickly impregnates. The novel, like the family it portrays, loses its center after Teresa’s death, as Bruce, Claire and Josh (especially the latter two) push and pull at each other, reaching and only sometimes finding comfort and connection. Strayed’s characters are real and lovable, even as they fail themselves and each other; even tertiary players feel fully realized. Though the subject is sad, the novel is not without humor; it shimmers with a humane grace.
Cancer rocks the foundation of a Minnesota family in Strayed’s debut novel.
Teresa Rae Wood is a force of nature. As a teenaged mother, she fled her abusive husband and decided to start a new life in rural Minnesota. She is notable not for her wild exploits, but for her decency and her keen mind. She becomes a bit of a local celebrity thanks to her quirky radio program, Modern Pioneers. Her joie de vivre is a source of pride for her family: Claire, a book-smart and emotive college senior; Joshua, a sensitive and taciturn adolescent about to graduate from high school; and Bruce, her common-law husband and adoring soulmate. The mordant news of Teresa’s diagnosis and ultimately her death shatters the family—each member takes a unique approach toward self-destruction. Bruce alienates himself from the community and latches on to the first single woman he can find. Joshua develops a drug habit, drops out of school and becomes a father. Claire has a sexual dalliance with a much older man and lets her studies slide. Strayed has a gift of getting to the core of the human condition without artifice. The reader weeps for the loss of this dynamic woman and wants to knock some sense into the survivors who are falling apart at the seams. Like Jane Smiley, Strayed effectively taps into the psyche of midwestern America, and her evocative prose leaves an indelible mark.
A hauntingly beautiful story written with tenderness and endowed with true insights into the frailty of relationships.