Torch by Cheryl Strayed
Published by Atlantic Books
7th August 2014
"Work hard. Do good. Be incredible!" is the advice Teresa Rae Wood shares with the listeners of her local radio show 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 receive unexpected news that Teresa, only 38, is dying of cancer, their lives are devastated. Strayed's intimate portraits of these human characters in a time of crisis is a moving exploration of grief and forgiveness, and a celebration of the beautiful terrors of learning how to keep living in the face of death.
This is actually Cheryl Strayed's first novel, as it was originally published in America in 2005 prior to writing Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, however Atlantic Books have published it in the UK for the first time this year. Torch is loosely based on the real-life events of Strayed's own life - her mother died when Strayed was in her early twenties, and in some ways Torch is the result of this.
Teresa Rae Wood works at a local radio show, and is happily unmarried to Bruce, with two children from her first marriage, Claire and Joshua. Feeling unwell, Teresa goes to the doctors and discovers that she has cancer. Torch follows her demise, her death, and her family's ability to cope and move on after she has gone. Each character deals with the situation in a different way, I won't say how for fear of spoiling the story, but Strayed writes with a passion that grabs and involves you in their lives, drawing you in to the story. Joshua is a self-centred so-and-so whom I didn't particularly like, but it is good that a character can be written in a way to make you like/dislike them.
Initially I thought I would sob throughout this book, but I didn't. Teresa's death comes pretty quickly in the first part of the book, and the remainder is about how her family cope, or don't cope, with this. I think it would be a different book entirely had this been drawn out, making it much more melancholic. As it is, Strayed has written a very poignant, yet moving, novel about death, grief, and moving on.