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Touch [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Alexi Zentner
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 12 2011
NOMINEE 2011 – Scotiabank Giller Prize

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.

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LONGLISTED 2013 – IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

“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

About the Author

Alexi Zentner won the 2008 O. Henry Prize and the 2008 Narrative Prize for Short Stories. His fiction has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Tin House and many other publications. His debut novel, Touch, was published simultaneously in Canada, the UK and the United States, and in several other countries. Born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, he now lives with his wife and two daughters in Ithaca, New York.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful , Haunting Read. Sept. 26 2011
"Touch" is an entrancing tale, hauntingly told, of three generations of the Boucher family and those that were intertwined with their lives.
The time span of the story takes place between sometime in the mid to later 1800's up until WW2. Though the wars play essentially no part in the book, they help to ground the timeline.

The story is crafted beautifully , almost poetically at times. It is most evocative. Touch also has the most startling and vivid word imagery. For a seamless read, I suggest creating a family tree of the characters early on in the story.

Touch is the most fascinating story I've read in some time. It can be a bit challenging to follow because though it is essentially told from the perspective of 40 year old Vancouverite Paul, the story very often goes off on a tangent timewise and narrator wise to Paul's father and grandfather and their memories and stories.

I won't recount the story, but I wanted to address the mention of the "supernatural " or "Grimms Fairy Tale" aspect of this book.

Though the element of magical realism is present, I found that it flowed most naturally in Touch. This element can be easily understood as a part of the hypothermia suffered by frontiers man Grandfather Jeannot or by the lonely imaginings that emerge from isolation of a long cold winter . The magical realism can also be taken at face value, or as part of the flawed memories or re-tellings of family memories which become a part of both a truth and a family mythology.

As grandfather Jeannot explains of he and his wife's isolation of winter on page 203 : " It was the sound during the those months... that was hard to get used to. At first they had the wind and and the pelting snow...
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating historical novel Sept. 10 2014
By Lorina Stephens TOP 500 REVIEWER
Zentner presents a fascinating, historical story of hardship, endurance and superstition set in the British Columbia/Yukon interior around the late 19th century. The characters are well-defined, the environmental descriptions vivid, the plot intriguing.

Memorable, readable, recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My kind of story June 19 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In the same vein as River Thieves (Michael Crummey) and The Last Crossing (Guy Vanderhaeghe), it mixes a bit of the fantastic and the life in the Canadian wild a hundred years ago. Fascinating, engrossing, magic. I loved it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touch Aug. 16 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Thoroughly enjoyed this book~!! Really, really good~!! The outline doesn't really do the book justice, but it probably couldn't without giving the story away. I highly recommend this book~!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gloriously satisfying read April 18 2011
By Elli - Published on
The setting, a small village named Sawgamet in northern British Columbia, is extraordinarily strong in this novel. Stephen is an Anglican priest returning to visit his dying mother in the wilderness village settled by his grandfather Jeannot. Rich details of the rough town, the wild forest and terrifying weather, and the dangerous logging life are combined with a multi-generation love story. The novel shifts back and forth between Jeannot's memories, Stephen's boyhood, and his return to bury his mother and take over his stepfather's church. It shifts back and forth as well between the boom to bust history of the town and Jeannot's evocation of the wood witches and forest spirits. This is a haunting and gloriously satisfying read.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down, buy this BOOK! April 9 2011
By cindy buranek - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It was a mystical tale of heartbreak and love and generations of history.
There is a spot in the book, and I won't spoil it, that brings such a vivid picture to your mind
that I literally had to put the book down and catch my breath.
This is a lovely book, the writer is a great storyteller. It is an easy read, downloaded it in the morning and was done reading by the afternoon.
As a writer myself, I want the author to know,
keep writing, ignore any and all bad reviews, and just keep writing...
Very well done, I loved it and will tell everyone I know to read it.
Just as "Art of Racing in the Rain" grabbed me, this book did too.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I had seen enough to know that ghosts and monsters lived in the woods." March 26 2011
By Luan Gaines - Published on
The North American wilderness is the setting for a novel part Brothers Grimm and three generations of family bonded by history and the "crippling beauty of winter". Sawgamet, a former mining town become logging village, was founded by Jeannot Boucher, Stephen Boucher's grandfather. Sitting vigil at his mother's bedside in her final days, forty-something Stephen uses the quiet hours to reflect on his childhood, where a demanding landscape requires extraordinary sacrifices, yet yields magical images of a land between worlds. This is a tale of love, loss and the realization that anything is possible where survival and beauty coexist. Jeannot's larger-than-life presence in the boy's life has a profound effect from their first meeting, when ten-year-old Stephen has lost his father, Pierre, and sister, Marie, both trapped beneath the shelf of ice where Marie fell through while skating. Father and daughter float, still visible, hands near touching in a tragic tableau.

While Pierre has taught his son the meaning of strength and courage, it is Jeannot who embodies the magic and the myth in the land of the trickster, the loupgarou and the gallupilluit (sea witch), Flaireur, a singing dog and Gregory, a Russian miner returned for revenge for his untimely death. Thanks to the determined efforts of sixteen-year-old Jeannot, a young man in search of his fortune in gold, Sawgamet grows from mining town to a more sustainable logging community, Jeannot as much myth as man. Confiding to Stephen, "I've come back for your grandmother. I've come back to raise the dead", Jeannot spends hours with the boy, describing how he walked the lonely terrain alone, guided by a stubborn dog who refuses to bark but finally sings, drawing forth a flurry of beating wings and sharp beaks, birds that will sustain man and dog through the winter.

Through the prism of Stephen's understanding, Jeannot's world is hard, yet achingly beautiful, from a golden creature appearing to Martine and Jeannot to monsters that prowl in search of souls, couples buried under snow for long winter months, the unavoidable demands of survival: "With a single bite he called down a vengeance upon himself." Envision a boy of ten enthralled by his grandfather's tales, the loss of beloved father and sister still fresh and raw; a driven young miner who cobbles together a shelter as winter strikes, sleeping back to back with his animal; a couple striding naked through a magical forest in pursuit of a golden caribou, gilt sprinkling the air like snowflakes; a father reaching for his young daughter's hand under the ice, their fingers nearly touching. The "magical realism" of the author's transcendent prose is both fascinating and terrifying, the melding of three generations, a place "where mountains loom... where shape shifters fly past us in the dark", where Stephen links hands with the past and "memories are another way to wake the dead". Luan Gaines/2011.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love, death, ghosts in the woods July 26 2011
By Ginahmk - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had not seen any reviews about this book and bought it based on Amazon recommendation (got it right this time!). Wow, what can I say that others haven't said already. This is highly original multi-layered story of love and death set in the harshest environment. Brave humans with goodness and hope battle against the sinister, seductive woods and rivers of nature filled with the violence of nature and spirits. Stephan, the grandson of the village's founder, has returned to his childhood home and tells his family history while he sits vigil at his mother's death bed. The author captures the beauty, mystery and fables of northern Canada, the undying dreams and romance of youth, the realization of middle-age and weaves a hypnotic spell. I could not put this book down. The characters twine into your heart as you go back and forth to discover the secrets and tragedy of this family's battle against the wilderness and it's deadly magic to settle this town. There is the death of Stephen's sister and father, the shame of his grandfather's murder and the incredible longing and sorrow as family members are lost to early death or old age. One of the best fantasy novels I have read in a long time, like no other in theme and setting.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad read Jan. 27 2013
By AngieM1973 - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It's decently written but I found myself getting bored at times or trying to hurry through the book to get done.
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