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Torch: A Novel [Paperback]

Cheryl Strayed
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Jan. 8 2007
"Be incredible!" That's the advice Teresa Rae Wood gives the listeners of her popular local radio show, Modern Pioneers!, a kind of hippie Praire Home Companion. Teresa has taken the advice to heart in her own life. As a teen mother and abused wife, she escaped with her two children to rural Minnesota, fell in love with a local carpenter, and raised good kids, Claire and Joshua. Then, at only 38, she receives the devastating news that she is gravely ill. In just a few weeks, she is gone.

The award-winning writer Cheryl Strayed creates from this shattering experience a novel that reviewers have called "an unforgettable read" and "a hauntingly beautiful story" that "shimmers with a humane grace." *

Infused with compassion and surprising humor, Torch takes a refreshingly unsentimental view of a family reeling from crisis. Claire drops out of college to devote herself to keeping her mother's memory alive back home. Joshua drifts out of high school and into trouble, keeping his grief silently private. Suddenly thrown into adulthood, they struggle to figure out how to connect in this new, unthinkable situation. Their one remaining ballast is Teresa's gentle common-law husband, Bruce. When Bruce announces news of his own plans, it comes as a shock not only to Claire and Joshua but also to the townspeople who have watched this unusual family grow and have come to love them.

Cheryl Strayed has a deep appreciation for the shifting rhythms between siblings and parents and for the beautiful terrors of learning how to keep living. The wonderful characters in Torch come alive and stay with you long after the novel ends.

*Library Journal; Kirkus Reviews; Publishers Weekly

Cheryl Strayed's award-winning stories and essays have appeared in more than a dozen magazines, including the New York Times Magazine, Allure, Self, The Sun, and Nerve. Widely anthologized, her work is featured in The Best New American Voices 2003 and has been selected twice for The Best American Essays. Raised in Minnesota, Strayed has worked as a political organizer for women’s advocacy groups and was an outreach worker at a sexual violence center in Minneapolis. She holds an M.F.A. from the Syracuse University Graduate Creative Writing Program. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two children.

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From Publishers Weekly

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. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Teresa Rae Wood is famous in her small town of Midden, Minnesota, for hosting Modern Pioneers, a local radio program that gives tips on living off the land. At the age of 38, she is diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer and dies within months. Her -common--law husband, Bruce, and her children, 20-year-old Claire and 18-year-old Josh, are left reeling. Bruce abruptly marries his next-door neighbor, Josh becomes heavily involved in dealing methamphetamine, and Claire single-mindedly devotes herself to keeping her mother's memory alive. What they learn about grief over the succeeding months gives each of them the strength to both ask for help and respect each other's vastly different coping methods. First--novelist Strayed shows a deep appreciation for the rhythms of small-town life, capturing the sense of community, the struggle to earn a living, and also the disdain for "city apes." In addition, she discerns within one family's crisis the painful, shifting nature of familial relationships, especially Josh's desire to both escape from and acknowledge his need for his dying mother. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... July 12 2012
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In Cheryl Strayed's debut novel, cancer rocks the foundation of a Minnesota family. As a teenaged mother, Teresa Rae Wood fled her abusive husband and started a new life outside Duluth. Townspeople know her for her decency, her keen mind and her quirky radio program, "Modern Pioneers."

Teresa's family includes her daughter, Claire, a book-smart and emotive college senior; her son, Joshua, a sensitive and taciturn adolescent about to graduate from high school; and Bruce, her common-law husband and adoring soulmate. The tragic news of Teresa's diagnosis followed by her ultimate death shatters the family as 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.

If you've read Strayed's excellent new memoir, "Wild," "Torch" may seem repetitive because of its autobiographical nature. Nevertheless, Strayed has a gift of getting to the core of the human condition without artifice. She effectively taps into the psyche of midwestern America, and her evocative prose leaves an indelible mark. She has composed a hauntingly beautiful story written with tenderness and endowed with true insights into the frailty of relationships.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  94 reviews
79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm so glad I read this book Feb. 21 2006
By Mona Melendy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
To be honest, I almost didn't read this novel because I thought it would be too sad to bear. As it turns out, I was half-right: it was too sad, it was breathtakingly sad, but I could not bear to stop reading it. On its face, the plot is simple: a husband, son, and a daughter stumble, brokenhearted, toward the moment of Teresa Rae Wood's death and then spin, brokenhearted, away from that moment, out into their separate lives and separate griefs. But there is nothing simple about Strayed's achievement, which is to render moot concepts like plot. The amazing truth is that, while I read this book, I never for a single second thought to myself, "This is a story. These are characters." I thought instead, from the first page, "This is a world. These are people." And they are people I needed to stick by through every brutal second of Teresa Rae Wood's dying and all the brutal, beautiful, dislocated, intensely intimate days and months that follow her dying. In their frank efforts to survive awful loss, Bruce, Claire, and Josh cling to some people, push others away, behave badly, nobly, selfishly, gorgeously, and they don't so much emerge from grief, as they manage to forge lives in which grief can coexist with hope and continuing. I'm so glad I read this book.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique new voice in fiction with an incredible tale of a family in crisis Jan. 31 2006
By K. Corn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Author Cheryl Strayad (who has published short stories but, to my knowledge, NEVER a full length novel) proves her talent once again by creating an incredibly haunting tale of a family in crisis. I loved every member of this family, flaws and all.

Teresa, the matriarch of the group, is clearly the heart of this family and every bit of her life reflects her love of domestic pursuits. She even has a show which bears some resemblance to Prairie Home Companion combined with Martha Stewart, a show which promotes the creativity that can come with getting back to basics and doing things from scratch.... even in today's rushed world where such pursuits may not seem worthwhile, where wool sweaters can be bought with far less time and money than knitting them.
As Teresa battles cancer, the family is ripped apart at the seams, each one coping (or going into full blown denial) in separate ways. Claire, the daughter, who is intelligent and in college, drops out of school - while her brother takes another path. I don't want to reveal ALL the details because readers deserve to discover the special voice and style of this writer for themselves. In spite of the seemingly dark subject matter, the book is touching and heartbreaking.
I simply urge you to get a copy and discover a writer who hasn't become famous yet...but deserves more notice.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Debut novel deftly explores shattering impact of unexpected death on family July 11 2007
By Bruce J. Wasser - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The paperback version of Cheryl Strayed's complex and moving debut novel, "Torched," contains a revealing conversation with the author. In it, Strayed laments the fact that "in contemporary literary fiction...one's writing must never be sentimental, which often results in writing that lacks sentiment entirely." With extraordinary sensitivity, "Torch" explores the grief, pain and confusion that accompany the unexpected death of a family member. This is a deeply felt novel, one which features characters whose anguish is palpable, whose coping mechanisms are far from perfect and whose personalities are indelibly stamped by loss.

Fleeing an abusive marriage, Teresa Rae Woods lands in tiny Midden, Minnesota, impoverished, jobless and saddled with the responsibility of raising her two children. Resolute and resourceful, she slowly makes a life for herself, and in the process, discovers the true love of her life, an admirable carpenter, Bruce. Literally taking the advice she dispenses on her weekly radio show, Teresa words hard, does good and tries to "be incredible." Her exceptionally bright daughter, Claire and her alienated son Joshua have forged a profoundly healthy relationship with Bruce, who is everything to the two of them less being their legal father.

Then, at age thirty-eight, Teresa succumbs to cancer, and, predictably, those who love here most are staggered with the near-exquisite pain of loss. The centrifugal forces of grief splinter the family; each of the three survivors staggers under the weight of such an unsettling loss. Through various stages, Bruce, Claire and Joshua come to grips with the death of a loving partner or parent, and their journey towards understanding, acceptance and health is gripping.

The greatest strength of "Torch" is Cheryl Strayed's probing how each character summons the strength to endure. Hers is a messy novel, elegantly written and deeply felt. Her characters lose track of family history, turn into themselves and find themselves washed ashore -- shipwrecks of life. There is not a single note of falsehood in Stayed's writing; the terrible strain of mourning results in awful decisions and sundered bonds. Despite the fact that the three survivors share the most cruel of bonds -- the death of the family's anchor -- not one of them can summon the ability to reach out to the other. Their resulting loneliness increases their pain.

In part autobiographical, "Torch" took some ten years to write. Its treatment of cancer, post-death dislocation and our capacity to renew ourselves after trauma distinguish this honorable novel. Cheryl Strayed has accomplished her goal; she has crafted a work of great emotional impact, a work of art that elicits both thought and feeling.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Therapeutic Writing Sept. 25 2012
By Monika Matthews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's not often that I don't finish a book. I fell in love with Cheryl Strayed after reading Wild and Dear Sugar, so I was looking forward to consuming everything I could get my hands on. It's clear, though, that Torch isn't what made her for a reason. There is nothing wrong with the book, it just isn't very compelling. After reading the other books and being familiar with Strayed's story, I can't help but think of this as more of a therapeutic writing project for her to explore her feelings about her mother's death than a story that we are all to share. Maybe if I had never read the other books, maybe if I didn't know it was the same author, maybe then I would like it. But for now, I'm admitting defeat and putting this one down.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Work hard. Do good. Be incredible." Nov. 24 2012
By Amelia Gremelspacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Teresa Rae shares this phrase with the listeners of her radio show. This show passed on homely hints and was wildly popular with her listeners. Her children, Claire and Joshua, frankly found it embarrassing, but this was before their mother is diagnosed with cancer.
After the years of struggle as a single mother, the establishment of a surrogate community in a tiny rural town, and the comfort of a war marriage; cancer crashes into their lives. Bruce, her husband, Teresa and Claire fight fiercely. Joshua goes to ground in an inability to face the illness.
This is a lovely book of a real family with with real strengths and weaknesses. The story is well told. And the grief and aftermath of Teresa's illness stayed with me for weeks. If I were to choose a definitive novel on the growth of a family and the devastation of cancer, this may very well be the book. People don't always act how we would judge to be good, but this book gives us luminous evidence that they do the best "good" that they can. I am very discriminating on the portrayal of grief, and I feel this book does it very well. This book is a strong recommend.
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