Touch begins with Stephen, an Anglican priest, returning from Vancouver to the northern BC town of Sawgamet where he grew up, just in time for his mother’s death.
Sawgamet was founded by Stephen’s grandfather Jeannot, when he heard a voice in the woods calling his name and his dog, Flaireur, refused to take another step. Back then, as Stephen remembers it from the stories passed down to him, men were giants, or even gods, striving to tame the land. The world of Sawgamet was enchanted, alive with qallupilluit and ijirait, sea-witches and shape-shifters; Jeannot saw caribou covered with gold dust and found gold nuggets the size of boulders. Sometimes winter refused to end, and blizzards buried the whole town in snow for months at a time. Sawgamet was a place where Jeannot had to kill a man twice and then carry the bones around with him, bound in cloth, to make sure he stayed dead.
Years later, with his mother on her deathbed, Stephen tries to piece together the past from myths and stories and memories that he’s not sure he can trust. And not everything is magical: if life in Jeannot’s Sawgamet was richer and brighter than it seems for Stephen now, it was also harder and more brutal, with both fire and ice claiming too many lives before their time. Jeannot never knew his son, Pierre, Stephen’s father, who was himself maimed in a logging accident; Stephen’s childhood was marked by tragic loss, and a lasting pain he must now confront as he considers how to pass Jeannot’s stories on to his own daughters.
A chronicle of the birth of a town and the passing of a way of being in the world, Touch is unique, compelling and full of marvels. But this book captures the most personal moments in life as well as the most dramatic ones – Alexi Zentner conveys three generations of a family’s intimate emotional experience in language that pierces the heart. This beautiful and moving novel is a great story told by a natural storyteller, and to read Touch is to enter an enthralling world that you’ll never want to leave.
READ AN EXCERPT
1. What is the meaning of the title, Touch?
2. In what ways is the town of Sawgamet a character in the book? How does Sawgamet change over time?
3. What is the significance of the theme of ownership and possession in the novel? Consider the ways that the ax, in particular, changes hands repeatedly....
“Eerie, elegiac debut. . . . The tales he tells Stephen . . . are woven in so seamlessly that the reader never questions their validity. The rugged wilderness is captured exquisitely, as is Stephen’s uncommon childhood, and despite a narrative rife with tragedy, Zentner’s elegant prose keeps the story buoyant.”
— Publisher Weekly (starred review)
“Alexi Zentner has created a seminal poetic story that resonates in our collective memory of timber, minerals and snow; of ghosts and gods and death; but above all, reminds us of the faith and love and optimism necessary for survival.”
— Linden MacIntyre, author of The Bishop’s Man
“A fantastic story set on the margins of the northern forest, Alexi Zentner’s Touch explores the mystery that connects the heart of the wild with human passion. This is a tale of extremes, both marvellous and magical, yet rendered in honest, grave prose. In the midst of brothels, prospectors, lumberjacks, ghosts, obliterating snowstorms and devastating fires, Zentner strings memory in grave rhythms, making the sound of love. A beautiful first novel.”
— Beth Powning, author of The Sea Captain’s Wife
“In this sweeping family saga, Zentner delves into the heart of myth and memory. Eerie and beautiful, Touch is a love-song to the power—and brevity—of dreams.”
— Johanna Skibsrud, Giller Prize-winning author of The Sentimentalists
"Touch is one of those rare novels that simultaneously takes hold of both your imagination and your heart and does not let go. In sharp, startling prose, Alexi Zentner seamlessly weaves the story of Sawgamet and its inhabitants, creating a world of myth and magic, hard truths, aching loss, and spectacular triumphs. It's a gem of a book."
— Aryn Kyle, author of The God of Animals
"In this accomplished debut, Alexi Zentner draws you in with a kind of magic. He paints a long-gone, near-mythical world of northwestern loggers and miners with such skill that it comes roaring back to life. And no wonder: this book is enchanted with fables, full of images so beautiful and strange that they are haunting. Touch more than delivers on the promise of its title: long after the last page, you will still be in its grip."
— Josh Weil, author of The New Valley
"It's hard to believe this is a first novel - Alexi Zentner is as confident and assured as the old sawyers and prospectors who populate these pages. Touch brings to life a lost world, or maybe just a world we wish was real, in prose as seductive as gold dust. It's a sublime haunting, a ripping yarn, and a killer debut."
— J. Robert Lennon, author of Castle, Pieces for the Left Hand, and Mailman
"Touch is a stunning and provocative debut. Zentner mines the human heart to blend humor with tragedy, myth with reality, addicting his audience to a world as uplifting as it is brutal."
— Tea Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife
"An affecting debut from a major new talent.
— Philipp Meyer, author of American Rust
“A remarkable novel, full of mystery and beauty, it chills you to the bone and then warms your heart.”
— Mary Lawson, author of Crow Lake
“Alexi Zentner’s Touch is full of a sinister magic straight from the tradition of the Brothers Grimm: the dark, impenetrable forest, the ravenous water-witches, the menace of blizzards, the rivers that swallow people whole and leave them frozen in the ice all winter, straining to link hands. Such savagery, however, only illuminates the deeply human love in the marrow of this novel, which Zentner achieves with incredible grace and greatness of heart.”
— Lauren Groff, author of The Monsters of Templeton and Delicate Edible Birds
“In this accomplished debut, Alexi Zentner draws you in with a kind of magic. He paints a long-gone, near-mythical world of northwestern loggers and miners with such skill that it comes roaring back to life. And no wonder: this book is enchanted with fables, full of images so beautiful and strange that they are haunting. Touch more than delivers on the promise of its title: long after the last page, you will still be in its grip.”
— Josh Weil, author of The New Valley
“[An] eerie, elegiac debut. . . . The rugged wilderness is captured exquisitely, . . . and despite a narrative rife with tragedy, Zentner’s elegant prose keeps the story buoyant.”
— Publishers Weekly