Synopses & Reviews
In her debut novel, Torch
, bestselling author Cheryl Strayed weaves a heartbreaking autobiographical 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. After fleeing a bad marriage and rebuilding a 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 time of crisis show the varying truths of grief, forgiveness, and the beautiful terrors of learning how to keep living.
"A heartbreaking anatomy of one family's grief....Beautifully written and authentic." People
"Exquisite, powerful....Strayed's Torch is an amazing feat....This is autobiographical fiction at its best." Portland Tribune
"A deeply honest novel of life after catastrophe, of intimacy lost and found." O Magazine
"Torch is a steady stream of finely wrought portrayals of nuance, moments and emotions....Lovely turns of phrase are coupled with subtle and keen observations and truisms that remind a reader why she reads." Newsday
"Strayed proves a master of the little and the big....There is throughout the novel a perfectly tuned ear. Combined with her empathic skills, she has transformed these familiar themes into an irresistibly engaging debut read." Star Tribune
"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...live dense, perplexing, fascinating and authentic lives." Washington Post Book World
"[Strayed] astounds — producing a literary balm for those who know what it means to lose a parent. Coming on the heels of Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, Torch echoes a similar theme: loss of a loved one will usher chaos into your life; it will shake you to your core; on its worst day, grief will make you absolutely crazy." The Oregonian
"Strayed...has a light hand, delivering emotional scenes with a journalistic eye, picking out the important details without resorting to purple prose....Very moving." San Francisco Chronicle
"It's a beautiful book, expansive in its treatment of tragedy and grief, but equally attentive to all of the most telling details. The language is lovely, offering delicious, compelling imagery without being heavy-handed." Providence Journal
"Strayed knows how to balance the heartache with humor, and the spiritual with the mundane, to create characters you begin to know like friends." Pages Magazine
"Strayed addresses this universal theme with skill and unflinching compassion by creating exceptionally believable characters....The details are precise, understated and devastating....The metaphors are original and rich....In short, this is a very moving and accomplished novel." Bookreporter.com
About the Author
Cheryl Strayed is the author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and Tiny Beautiful Things. Her stories and essays have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, The Rumpus, The Missouri Review, The Sun, The Best American Essays, and elsewhere.
Reading Group Guide
has been compared to Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking
. Have you read other fiction or nonfiction works that share the themes of Torch
? What are the challenges of dealing with issues of grief in fiction? In nonfiction?
2. The novel takes place in Midden, Minnesota, a fictional small midwestern town. How does the setting of the novel inform the characters and their actions? Would you agree that the town serves as a character in the novel and if so, how?
3. Teresa is the host of a local radio show called Modern Pioneers. In what ways does this show reflect her personality and her family? How does the radio show affect the characters throughout the course of the novel?
4. Teresa flees a bad marriage and has a long, loving relationship with Bruce in which she believes she is setting a good example for her children. What is your opinion of Bruce as a husband and father?
5. Teresa’s children, Claire and Joshua, have a good but sometimes strained relationship with their mother at the start of the novel. How does their relationship change when they learn Teresa has cancer?
6. Explore the reactions of Bruce, Claire, and Joshua to Teresa’s diagnosis. How did you feel about their actions? Are they typical of someone facing tragedy or misfortune? How would you act if you found yourself in the same situation?
7. In the hospital, Claire and Bruce meet the grief counselor Pepper Jones-Kachinsky, who preaches strength through faith. How is Claire’s response to Pepper different from that of Bruce? What role does faith play in the novel and in your own life?
8. Teresa’s death prompts each of the main characters to choose a new path for themselves. Bruce takes the most dramatic step, while Claire and Joshua struggle in their sibling relationship and in their romantic relationships. How is their decision-making complicated by Teresa’s absence from their lives?
9. Although Bruce is their stepfather, he has a very strong bond with Claire and Joshua throughout his marriage to Teresa. How does Bruce’s relationship to Claire and Joshua change after Teresa’s death? How is the relationship complicated by the fact that he is not their biological father?
10. Cheryl Strayed writes of Claire, “She came to see that her grief did not have an end, or if it did, she would not be delivered there. Grief was not a road or a river or a sea but a world, and she would have to live there now.” How does this statement coincide with or differ from your own thoughts on grieving? Did you identify with the thoughts and actions of Bruce, Joshua, or Claire?
11. Although Torch is about the death of a loved one, it is also a story of a family confronting their grief and trying to heal. How would you describe the overall tone of the novel?
12. The novel begins with an epigraph from Jane Eyre: “Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.” Do the characters believe in fate and its effect on their lives? What is your view on fate in your own life?
The introduction, questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Cheryl Strayed’s Torch.