I discovered the following novel while reading an article in Library Journal,1 a retrospective of the season's top debut novels designed to "alert librarians to writers who bear watching"...
Torch by Cheryl Strayed
Teresa Rae Wood is a firecracker. After escaping an abusive marriage she comes into her own. The host of her own radio show, Modern Pioneers!, Teresa lives an idyllic life in small-town Minnesota with common-law husband Bruce and her two children: 17-year-old Josh and 20-year-old Claire. When, out of the blue, Teresa is diagnosed with terminal cancer, the family's whole world changes. Within months Teresa is dead. Reeling from the shock, Bruce, Claire, and Josh falter; the family comes apart at the seams.
Torch is less a novel about someone suffering from cancer as it is an exploration of the anatomy of grief. The whole feeling of the novel changes with Teresa's death. It becomes more fragmented, mirroring of the lives of the family.
In Torch, Strayed looks honestly at grief and suffering. Her characters are fully realized, immensely human in their failings and small triumphs, and her descriptions of rural Minnesota have an air of authenticity. Smattered with the inescapable humor of everyday life, the novel is more than just sad. All this combines to make a story that, though it is fiction, is true.
An accomplished novel -- a novel that does not read like a debut -- Torch speaks eloquently to anyone who has suffered a great loss. How it affects others, I can't honestly say. Reading this book and writing this review I can't hide from the fact that my best friend died when I was nine and that I make my husband change the channel whenever the trailer for the soon-to-be released Bridge to Terabitha movie comes on. And, that's a good thing.
A successful essayist, Strayed has an MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University.
You can learn more about Strayed and her work at her website.
1131, no.16 (October 1, 2006): 38-41.