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4.3 out of 5 stars
Touch: A Novel
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2011
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.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2011
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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2011
Touch: A Novel by Alexi Zentner is quintessential Canadian fiction. Told in the voice of Stephen, a middle-aged Anglican priest who has returned home to Sawgamet, British Columbia, to lead a parish and sit vigil at his mother's deathbed, Touch: A Novel tells the story of Sawgamet's birth and the legacy of Stephen's ancestors. One can never be sure if the stories are completely true or if the details were embellished to amuse Stephen as a child. When he narrates his own childhood memories, sometimes it's unclear whether he's misremembering an event. Occasionally, he admits to confusion about the order of events, but overall it doesn't seem to matter. The heart of the narrative remains the same regardless of the details: people lived, loved, and died in Sawgamet, at the mercy of the elements and chance.

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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2011
"I thought of all the stories he had told me of my grandmother, of himself. Of Sawgamet. I thought of the fires, the snow, the woods." And so the novel Touch tells us these stories, stories that fall upon the reader as gently and softly as snow, stories of generations of one family, stories that convey to us the beauty, the wonder, the joys and losses that mark the human condition.
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 27, 2011
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Soft as falling snow, delicate as rime on glass, "Touch" is a remarkable début novel from Canadian-born writer, Alexi Zentner. The book tells the tale of three generations of a single family, as narrated from the viewpoint of the youngest, Stephen, the minister son of a logging foreman, and grandson of Jeannot, one-time gold prospector and founder of the (fictitious) boom-town of Sawgamet, high in the Canadian Rockies. Its subject matter is often harsh and savage but Zentner's prose is never rough, violent or brash; instead he leads the reader on what feels to be a gentle amble through the most arduous and strenuous of times as though this were nothing more than a walk in the park, at the same time making it seem the most natural thing in the world that the park be populated with sprites and bogeys and the ghosts of our own good intentions and the evils we have chosen to perpetrate. And if that sounds contradictory and disconcerting, then this is because much about the book feels to be contradictory, disconcerting and often enigmatic, if one attempts to analyse it in any rational way.

Zentner's treatment of even the most brutal of events is never less than elegiac, while his handling of subtly introduced mystic elements often borders on the prosaic. This produces a book that is hypnotic and unsettling, luring the reader ever further into its pages, while at the same time revealing only little of its true self and never giving more than a tantalising glimpse of the path ahead. Its constant shuffling backwards and forwards across its multiple time frames is also unsettling and disorienting although entirely natural in the way it is handled. Eventually, this becomes a story that you continue to read not to discover what happens, but to learn what already has. And to mourn for what we have lost.

Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2011
Ok, so I didn't pay for this book. I got an early review copy from the publisher. Don't worry, it doesn't make me biased. Most of the stuff they pass on to me is pretty bad, and I'm not afraid to tell them.
This however, is a beautiful work of literature.

"Touch" is the story of the history of a small logging town and the families that make their homes there. The story is narrated by Stephen, who is a third generation inhabitant. He as returned to the town to take over as the town pastor after living away from the town for the majority of his adulthood. His arrival happens to coincide with his mother becoming acutely ill and dying and he is narrating the story to the reader the night before her funeral. If that isn't enough plot for you, there are many other surprises. The story centers around the town of Sawgamet and its inhabitants, which primarily consist of Stephen's immediate family. The founder of the town, Jacques, is Stephen's grandfather. Stephen recalls in the story the day that Jacques returned to town after disappearing for many years to find his deceased wife. His claim was that she still lived in the magical forest that surrounded the town.

At first glance, that claim seems unlikely, but in the story we also encounter river demons, singing dogs, golden caribou, and cannabalism victims coming back to wreak revenge. Suddenly, someone living on after their deaths in the woods becomes more likely. .This story is a very complex and multi layered work of literature, where the magical interweaves with the darkly real. This creates a novel that's part "One Hundred Years of Solitude," part Brothers Grimm and has a small amount of wilderness taming adventure thrown in. Would definitely recommend. I already have many people asking to borrow my early reviewers copy, and I definitely recommend you go out and read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book was absolutely thrilling for me to find. I bought it on impulse on the bookseller's recommendation and I sure wasn't disappointed. Sitting down to read yesterday at around 3pm, I read it straight through. I was enthralled.

This is a fictional memoir of sorts. The narrator is an Anglican priest who grew up in a small town in British Columbia. We are taken through the history of the town as it morphs from gold mining/prospector camp into a logging town. The descriptions are rich and vivid as we meet the town's founder and the earliest people living there, and go through several generations to bring us to World War II when the narrator is writing.

The structure weaves the past in and out of the present and gives the reader the feeling that everyone is present through the whole story. That skill in itself is just magical, but the inclusion of ancient native American legends like the Wendigo (tho spelled differently in this book), and several other frightening inhabitants of ancient forests, helps us to feel the awesome otherness of the northwest. The descriptions of the weather is spellbinding, too.

This is a book about loss and acceptance, about enduring love, about family, and many other wonderful subjects. I recommend it without reservation! I can hardly wait to read the author's next book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2011
The novel is the reminiscing from Stephen, and Anglican priest, who has returned to his hometown, Sawgamet, in Canada, to be at his mother's side as she dies.

He recounts the stories, of Jeannot, his grandfather, who started the town of Sawgamet. Along with his grandfather there are stories of his father, Pierre, a logger, his sister Marie, and all of the people that come in and out of their lives.

There are tales of surviving the harsh winters, or in some cases, not surviving. But the bleak landscape and unrelenting weather are made magical with the addition of creatures and spirits. The contrast between the harsh realistic life and the magical creatures, works incredibly well.

At times, the shifting around of the stories and characters was a bit confusing, but it was so engrossing, I just kept reading, and became adept at recognizing who and what was being talked about.

A lovely book to be completely absorbed in.
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