Summary and book reviews of Torch by Cheryl Strayed

Torch
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 336 pages

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Book Summary

A family founders after a mother's death in this beautifully observed debut.  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.

"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.

1

She ached. As if her spine were a zipper and someone had come up behind her and unzipped it and pushed his hands into her organs and squeezed, as if they were butter or dough, or grapes to be smashed for wine. At other times it was something sharp like diamonds or shards of glass engraving her bones. Teresa explained these sensations to the doctor —the zipper, the grapes, the diamonds, and the glass—while he sat on his little stool with wheels and wrote in a notebook. He continued to write after she'd stopped speaking, his head cocked and still like a dog listening to a sound that was distinct, but far off. It was late afternoon, the end of a long day of tests, and he was the final doctor, the real doctor, the one who would tell her at last what was wrong.

Teresa held her earrings in the palm of one hand—dried violets pressed between tiny panes of glass—and put them on, still getting dressed after hours of going from one room to the ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

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."

Publishers Weekly

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.

Library Journal - Joy Humphrey

Starred Review. Strayed's descriptions of her characters' lives, where and how they live, what they remember, and what they wish to forget ring true and clear and make this novel an unforgettable read; highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A hauntingly beautiful story written with tenderness and endowed with true insights into the frailty of relationships.

Author Blurb Ursula Hegi
In language that's lyrical and haunting, Cheryl Strayed writes about bliss and loss, about the kind of grace that startles and transforms us in ordinary moments.

Author Blurb Sandra Scofield
Strayed writes fierce truths about how we live, [with] compassion, humor, and uncanny precision. We need her.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Berg
Torch is a deeply compelling, wonderfully crafted story about a journey into, through, and past grief . . . I loved the honesty of this novel, the way it looked at every aspect of loss and recovery -- the pain, the joy, the absurdity, the anger, the despair, the hope, and the great beauty -- without ever holding back.

Author Blurb Susan Richards Shreve
We know these characters so well and with such intricate understanding that their lives belong to us in a way that is the rare gift of fiction and a particular triumph of Strayed's wise and beautiful novel.

Author Blurb George Saunders
Big-hearted, keen-eyed, lyrical, precise, possessed of a genuine love for her characters, Strayed reminds us in every line that if defeat and despair are part of human experience, so are kindness, patience, and transcendence. This book is a wonderful and heartening accomplishment.

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Beyond the Book

Born in western Pennsylvania in 1968, Strayed spent most of her formative years—from the age of five until her mid-twenties—in Minnesota. Torch takes place in the fictional town of Midden, Minnesota, based on her hometown of McGregor. "It's my literary landscape; my spiritual home," she says. "No matter how far I wander, I often travel back to Minnesota when I sit down to write."

Before turning to her first novel, Strayed wrote a number of essays, one of which is titled "Heroin/e" and was included in Best American Essays (2000). It tells ...

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