Torch: A Novel Paperback – Jan 8 2007
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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.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
From the very first sentence, I was hooked. I read the second sentence, and third and fourth, until I realized that I would rather be reading it at home than standing in an aisle. As soon as I got home I opened the book and read it non-stop for two days. I devoured every single word.
What is amazing about this book is the way you are drawn into the lives of the characters. They were entirely convincing, to the point where I could not imagine they were not real. Their conversations, thoughts, actions were so natural I felt I knew them. Maybe I do know them, because all of the characters in this novel are us--in all of our emotional complexity. Whatever they feel, we feel, and have felt.
There is something positively magical about Cheryl Strayed's writing. It is beautiful, lyrical, and poetic in all the right places. But most of all, it is truthful in a way that is rare in life, let alone literature. She faces the most terrifying change of all, the loss of the most important person in one's life, with a kind of fierce honesty that is entirely free of the manipulative sentimentality that haunts personal stories. And this story is indeed personal. Strayed's own mother died suddenly when she was in her twenties. It is undoubtedly her own intimacy with grief which lends this book its force.
If I could give Torch more than five stars, I would. Strayed truly knows what it means to be human.