Touch Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Apr 12 2011
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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.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
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...Read more ›
Memorable, readable, recommended.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
Like any great Canadian novel, the wilderness is a character in and of itself in Touch: A Novel. The river and forest of Sawgamet has personality--sometimes malicious, sometimes generous, but more often indifferent to human suffering. Stephen's grandfather Jeannot founded the town of Sawgamet purely by accident. He and his dog camped along the Sawgamet River one summer, and when the winter came Jeannot found a gold nugget the size of a softball in the dirt under his dog's bed. Thus began the gold rush, and the boom town of Sawgamet was born. Jeannot never had much luck panning for gold, but he found a way to make money: supplying lumber to miners from the rich forests around the town.
Stephen has occasion to recall the growth of the town and the lives of his ancestors because of his present circumstances. His mother is dying, withering slowly, and is expected to die that night. Stephen recalls not only the birth of Sawgamet but the start of his grandparents' relationship, the trials they endured in a frontier town, and the traditions they passed down to his parents. He is narrating everything that led up to this point in history, to his existence in the world, to catalogue and justify what he will one day pass on to his daughters.
Stephen relates the experience of losing his father and sister when he was ten years old. They were swept away by a force of nature--that cruelly indifferent landscape that gave his family their livelihood even as it threatened to kill them. Later that year, his grandfather returns to Sawgamet for the first time since his grandmother died--and he wants to bring her back from the dead. In the meeting of the new world--electricity, steam engines, etc.--and the old, Jeannot is able to reunite with his wife and make peace with his sins.
Zentner weaves Native American beliefs into Touch: A Novel. The wilderness can and does cause characters to become bushed (that means 'insane' in Canadian terms) and they see things--mahaha, qallupilluit, etc. Some characters believe with absolute conviction that these things are real, that they embody their own truth and are a force of nature. Others dismiss them as superstition. And with a quintessentially Canadian frame of mind, Stephen makes no attempt to argue which way of thinking is correct. Both can co-exist; the real and the imaginary. What people see or don't see in the woods has the same effect, either way.
Touch: A Novel is a highly moving read, an escape into another time and place, and a highly memorable story. This is definitely a must-read book.
Located on the river, Sawgamet is a village discovered and founded by the narrator's grandfather, French speaking Jeannot, as he panned for gold. Other fortune seekers came, "many from Quesnellemouthe or further east." They stayed and built a town - a town with an Anglican church, stores, a school, a brothel. Jeannot and the miners and shopkeepers and ministers fell in love, married. Babies were born. The search for gold was abandoned while lumber was cleared - "gold offered rewards but cutting trees offered certainty," - and houses were built. A child fell through the ice and a father jumped to try to save her and both of them remain frozen beneath the ice, hands not quite touching. "Memories are another way to raise the dead," the narrator tells us. And readers who know loss, nod in response and agreement.
The villagers lived close to the land and Nature and the flow of her seasons, impacted the lives of all. Late fall offered clear skies and a melancholy sun signaling the return of winter. Snow falls late. " ...it stopped snowing that year, in July." And sometimes snowfalls so deep that husband and wife must chop a hole in the roof to find a way out, marked winter. Ice crackled and shattered with the sound of glass as spring approached. Thawing brought trickling runoff that swelled into creeks where a man could drown. And through it all, life continued. Families carried on, persisted, and beat back adversity to prosper, regenerate, thrive - and tell their stories.
And through the telling of the family saga, details like the mahahas embroider the fabric of everyday life. "They're kind of a snow demon. They tickle you until all your breath is gone. Leave you dead, but with a smile," Jeannot tells his granddaughter and the shimmering thread of thrill and mystery is woven, along with those of hardship and survival, into yet another generation.
Alexi Zentner is a Canadian/American writer and a graduate of Cornell. His short stories have garnered prizes and praise. His novel Touch is a story of love, endurance, joy and grief; in short, it is a story of family life. Zentner uses the overarching theme of nature and natural occurrences and writes about them with a gentleness and gracefulness that often belies the harsh reality of fact. He writes of snow and cold so beautifully that I felt my hands chill. Read Touch this summer. The story of deep-piled snow and icy cold, of family and love, gentleness and understanding will warm your heart.