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Synopses & Reviews
"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 womens 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.
"Somewhere out in the boonies of Northern Minnesota, where Duluth is the nearest town and 'the Cities,' Minneapolis and St. Paul, seem unimaginably far away, the village of Midden (whose name means a medieval trash heap) pursues its own quiet life. It's the kind of place where you can see a moose on the road and not make too big a deal out of it; where, in the summer, the folks at Len's Lookout, the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) local bar and restaurant, fill up a landlocked canoe with food so bears will come and entertain the city tourists. Midden has a school and a skeleton police force, a handful of cottages for the tourists and more modest accommodations for the year-round population. They're mostly poor as church mice, but they have the woods (and wood stoves) and snow and forests and the Mississippi whirling past. They're not much for 'progress.' A good many houses still have privies, and lots of people can't be bothered with television. They rely instead on the radio, a local station with a span of only 100 miles or so, run by volunteers whose only modest wish is to make their voices heard. Just as this lovely writer, Cheryl Strayed, strives to make their voices heard in her debut novel, 'Torch.' One of these volunteers is Teresa, a 38-year-old mom who does a show called 'Modern Pioneers!' She interviews guests about dowsing, gardening and quilting. When it's a slow news day, she talks about the doings of her own family: Her daughter, Claire, who's already in college and bound to be going places; her younger son, Joshua, who's a senior in college; and Bruce, her longtime boyfriend, with whom she's built a happy home. She doesn't talk about Karl, the husband who battered her so badly that she had to flee to another state with her kids. She is, in the words of Henry Miller, 'always merry and bright.' She's determined to love her life. Her program's signoff words, even though in her real life she's only a waitress at Len's Lookout, are, 'Work hard, do good, be incredible.' Naturally, she embarrasses her children almost to tears. Doesn't she realize they live in Midden? Hasn't she noticed they're at the bottom of the rural food chain, that before they met Bruce they were so poor they couldn't afford Kool-Aid and had to drink sugar water tinted with a drop of food coloring? But no, Teresa is happy — blissful even — until she finds out that she has cancer and dies seven weeks after her diagnosis. So this is a book about American rural life and poverty, but it's especially about death and the grief that follows, and the way those two things make us crazy. First, there's those crucial, awful, wonderful seven weeks. Even though she's plainly doomed, Teresa is subjected to radiation, which puts her in agony and is utterly futile. This means a long and dangerous drive to Duluth several times a week. Bruce has to keep working so Claire drops out of school to drive her mom. Joshua seems to disappear, to melt into the middle distance, calling in every once in a while on his cell phone, getting into the kind of trouble we might expect. Even when his mother checks into the hospital for the last weeks, he never shows up. Then, after the death, Bruce — good, solid Bruce, who always said he loved Claire and Joshua as his own — gets married to the lady next door, all within a matter of three months. He knows he shouldn't, but he does it anyway. 'You know what? I'm not your father ... And I don't owe you kids anything. You got that? You understand?' Midden is a tiny town, and the population is scandalized. What used to be a decent, functional family is reduced to three desperately lonely people in psychological free fall. Claire is furious that Joshua never showed up to be with his mother in her last days and furious that Bruce could betray them and their mother's memory so blatantly. But Bruce can't stand to be without a woman. He'd probably marry a hedgehog if it were female. And he can't stand the responsibility of taking care of the kids. When Joshua gets into the pickle we knew was coming all along, Bruce gives him a brutal taste of his own medicine: He ignores him, pretends that nothing is happening, lets him twist in the wind. And yet. They all have to live in this town. (Or leave, of course.) Claire and Joshua can't get divorced; they're brother and sister. Reruns of Teresa's radio programs haunt their daily lives. Bruce and the woman he married still live right next door. Nothing's changed; everything's changed. The family's magical epoxy, their radiant Krazy Glue, their naive and embarrassing and beautiful mother can't come out of the radio and sit down to breakfast with them. She's still with them, but she's gone. Grief is intractable, and it makes you crazy. Funny thing is: Life is intractable and it makes you crazy, too. All you can do is deal with it, or try to. A lot of 'Torch' is funny — funny as a crutch, as my dad used to say. Humans are so deeply irrational, so fiercely attached to the people and things they love, that nothing they do can be all that surprising. This novelist goes fearlessly into this place of raw grief and inappropriate lust and desperate love and simply reports what she sees: These are people who, along with their outdoor privies, stray moose and low-wattage radio stations, live dense, perplexing, fascinating and authentic lives." Reviewed by Carolyn See, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Strayed's descriptions of her characters' lives...ring true and clear and make this novel an unforgettable read." Library Journal
"Strayed has a gift of getting to the core of the human condition without artifice....A hauntingly beautiful story written with tenderness and endowed with true insights into the frailty of relationships." Kirkus Reviews
"Strayed shows a deep appreciation for the rhythms of small-town life....
"Work hard. Do good. Be incredible!” Thats the advice Teresa Rae Wood gives the listeners of her popular local radio show, Modern Pioneers, and she has taken it to heart in her own life. She fled a bad marriage, escaping to Midden, Minnesota (pop. 408), where she fell in love with a carpenter who became a loving stepfather to her children, Claire and Joshua. Now Claire is away at college, Joshua is laboring through his senior year of high school, and Teresa and Bruce are working to make ends meet. Despite their struggles, their love for each other binds them as a family. Then they receive the devastating news that Teresa has cancer and at thirty-eight may have less than one year to live. Those she will leave behind face something previously unimaginable — a future without her.
In Torch, the award-winning writer Cheryl Strayed creates from one family's shattering experience a novel infused with tenderness, compassion, and beauty.
Grounded in the everyday particulars of life in a small town, leavened by earthy humor, this book presents the saga of a family coming to terms with death--a tale of love and loss, grief and redemption set in rural Minnesota.
Be incredible!" That's the advice Teresa Rae Wood gives the listeners
of her popular local radio show, Modern Pioneers!, a kind of
hippie Prairie Home Companion. Teresa has taken the advice to heart
in her own life. As a teen mother and abused wife, Teresa escaped with
her two children to rural Minnesota, fell in love with a local carpenter,
and raised good kids, Claire and Joshua. Then, aged only thirty-eight,
she receives the devastating news that she is gravely ill. In just a few
weeks, she is gone.
Strayed has a deep appreciation for the shifting rhythms between siblings and parents and for the beautiful terrors of learning how to keep living. Torch is a novel of uncommon candor and wisdom.
About the Author
Cheryl Strayed's award-winning stories and essays have appeared in more than a dozen magazines, including the New York Times Magazine, Allure, Elle, and Nerve. 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 MFA from the Syracuse University Graduate Creative Writing Program.
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