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Torch

Cover of Torch

Torch

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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 rebuilta 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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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 rebuilta 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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Preface


    When I was nine someone gave me a blank diary. I don't remember who. It was pure white and had a small golden lock that opened with a small golden key that was also meant to re-secure the lock, but never did. I loved that diary. I remember very distinctly knowing it was the best gift I'd ever received. I filled it with stories about princesses and kings, about horses ridden by girls whose fathers drove around in fancy cars. I wrote about things that were nothing about me.

    When I was eleven a poet came to my school to teach a class for several days. She was called a poet-in-the-school, a special guest, a rare occurrence. Every minute she spoke it was like someone was holding a lit match to the most flammable, secret parts of me. One day the poet-in-the-school explained what metaphors were and then asked us to write a whole poem composed of them. I was a lion. I was an icicle. I was a kaleidoscope. I was a torn-up page. I was glass that other people took to be stone. Another day she told us we could write poems about our memories. She asked us to close our eyes and think for a while about when we were younger and then open our eyes and write. I wrote about running down the sidewalk in what I called "beautiful, filthy Pittsburgh" in my paint-speckled sneakers when I was five.

    A week later the principal summoned me to his office. When I arrived he explained from behind his big desk that the poet-in-the-school had showed him my poem. "You're a good writer!" he exclaimed. His name was Mr. Menzel. He was the first person to ever say this to me. He handed me a copy of my poem and asked if I would read it out loud to him and I did, mortified but also happy. After I was done reading he said it was surprising that I'd described Pittsburgh as being beautiful and filthy because most people would think it could not be both things at once. "Keep writing, Cheryl," he said.

    I kept writing.

    I didn't know that by doing so I was becoming a writer. I knew people wrote books, but it didn't occur to me that I could be one of them until I was twenty and a junior at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, enrolled in an introductory poetry class taught by Michael Dennis Browne. I learned a lot in that class. I came to understand language in a way I'd never understood it. I wrote my first serious (though lousy) poems. But most important, I got to be in a room a few times a week with a writer who'd written not just one book, but many, and it was only then that it dawned on me that even though the gap between who he was and who I was seemed enormous, maybe--just maybe--I could bridge that gap and someday be a person who wrote a book too.

    I've often been asked how long it took me to write Torch. There are three answers to this question and they are all true: four years, seven years, and thirty-four years. But the last answer is the truest. Torch is born of the little white diary with the lock that wouldn't work, the poet-in-the-school who taught me what a metaphor was, the principal who said keep writing, the writer whose existence showed me the way. They are not in the acknowledgments of this book, but they are in its blood. Torch is the story I had broiling in my bones for the first thirty-four years of my life. It's the story I felt I could not live without telling. The one that made me think I could die when I finished writing it (though I can't and don't want to). Perhaps every writer has this relationship to his or her first book. I worked my tail off when I wrote my other books, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, but Torch is the book that taught me how to write a book and because of that it was the one that...

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.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 7, 2005
    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.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 28, 2013
    In bestselling author Cheryl Strayed’s powerful novel, Teresa Rae Wood receives a shocking death sentence in the form of a terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of 38. With less than a year to live, her family comes together in an attempt to deal with the crisis and the inevitable loss. In this audio edition, Strayed delivers a powerful performance. And while her narration is far from polished, the inherent emotional investment she has in her story makes for a truly affecting listening experience. Strayed’s pacing is steady, and the author’s insider knowledge of the characters allows her to portray them in a realistic and compelling fashion. A Vintage paperback.

  • People "A heartbreaking anatomy of one family's grief. . . . Beautifully written and authentic."
  • Elizabeth Berg "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."
  • Portland Tribune "Exquisite, powerful. . . . Strayed's Torch is an amazing feat. . . . This is autobiographical fiction at its best."
  • O, The Oprah Magazine "A deeply honest novel of life after catastrophe, of intimacy lost and found."
  • Newsday "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."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune "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."
  • Washington Post Book World "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."
  • The Oregonian "[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."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "Strayed...has a light hand, delivering emotional scenes with a journalistic eye, picking out the important details without resorting to purple prose. . . . Very moving."
  • Providence Journal "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."
  • Pages Magazine "Strayed knows how to balance the heartache with humor, and the spiritual with the mundane, to create characters you begin to know like friends."
  • Bookreporter.com "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."
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