In her debut novel, Torch, bestselling author Cheryl Strayed weaves a searing and luminous 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. She has fled a bad marriage and rebuilt 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 a time of crisis show the varying truths of grief, forgiveness, and the beautiful terrors of learning how to keep living.
Teresa Rae Wood is an abused teen wife who escapes with her two children, Claire and Joshua. When she reaches Midden in rural Minnesota, she finds a job as a waitress at a local eatery. She falls in love with a local carpenter, Bruce, and starts living with him. She also hosts a popular local radio show.
Just as all seems to be going well, she receives the grim diagnosis of cancer. Within a few weeks, she dies. Her family members seem unable to cope.
Claire has an affair while Teresa is in hospital. After her mother dies, she breaks up with her boyfriend and drops out of college. Joshua quits high school and starts dealing drugs. He is arrested and goes to jail. He has a child with his teenage girlfriend Lisa.
Bruce, the person they look to for support, is himself beset with grief and contemplates suicide. He marries a neighbour, Kathy, in rebound because she is kind to him and helps dispel his loneliness.
The way Strayed writes about all these shattering experiences is quite unsentimental, but the rawness of the characters’ feelings hits you. The tinges of humour and grace that pop up provide relief.
The story is common; yet the telling of it is strong. The characters remind you of people who live among you. Their lives in the small town, sense of community, struggles, and kindnesses are relatable and endearing.
The ending of the book is not sad as it provides some sort of a resolution. It also makes you want to know more about the characters. I loved the apt quotes that Strayed have used in the book.
To sum up, this is an unforgettable, beautiful, haunting story that describes the effect that grief can have. It was the right book to read at the end of 2020, considering the losses I had to deal with this year.