REVIEWED BY MARIA SPEIDEL
In her debut novel, award-winning short story author Strayed delivers a heartbreaking anatomy of one family's grief. Teresa Rae Wood, a waitress in rural Minnesota, is the infinitely capable type who cards, spins and dyes her own knitting wool. She also hosts a radio show exuberantly titled "Modern Pioneers!", where she chats about such humble pursuits and urges listeners to "Work hard" and "Be incredible." No mystery that she is the emotional center of a tight family, consisting of Claire, a brainy daughter in college; Josh, a struggling teenage son; and common-law husband Bruce, a laconic carpenter who is not the children's father.
Wood's battle with a virulent cancer becomes the group's undoing. Marooned alone in sorrow, each family member acts out—Josh takes up crystal meth dealing while Claire drops out of school. Beautifully written and authentic in its portrayal of the unexpected fallout a family death can engender, Torch is as chilling and disorienting as the predawn phone call that brings bad news.