Touch – Book Review

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Alexi Zentner’s first novel Touch, is the story of the families of Sawgamet, a town in northwestern Canada at the edge of the vast northern forest.

Zentner’s fiction has appeared in many publications including The Atlantic Monthly, Orion Magazine, Glimmer Train and The Walrus. His short story “Touch”  was chosen as a jury favourite in the O. Henry Prize Stories, 2008.

Born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, he holds both Canadian and American citizenship.

The novel Touch is narrated by Stephen who lived his growing years in Sawgamet. He is now married and has children. He returns to Sawgamet a few days before his mother’s funeral to ponder the tragedies and loves of his family and friends and to remember his strong and mystical grandfather His memory is haunted by the love for his mother and deceased father and grandfather. The major focus is on his grandfather, Jeannot, who at 16 travelled hundreds of miles across the country to discover a nugget of gold that drove him to pan for gold ceaselessly until the harsh onset of winter forces him to build a shelter. His failure to find sufficient food to survive the winter using his axe and rifle is alleviated by his seemingly magical dog Flaireur. The dog’s sudden singing attracts a wide variety of birds storming the shelter providing sufficient food for their survival.

Zentner’s stunning ability to blend myth and realism throughout this multifamily story pulls the reader willingly into a fascinated acceptance. The Inuit myths, the appearances of sometimes strange and frightening apparitions are balanced by his passionate and realistic portrayal of the people: Their many struggles, the friendship, love and humour shared. Jeannot, despite the overwhelming presence of a wild and sometimes threatening forest instigates the building and development of a successful logging business in the late 1800s. A small but thriving town builds around the often dangerous industry.

Stephen tells of his grandfather’s return thirty years after the tragic death of his dearly loved wife, Martine. On being questioned as to why he has returned he looked at Stephen,

“I’ve come for your grandmother,” he said. “I’ve come to raise the dead.” and in his own way he does for a moment.

Touch is an enriching and moving story of the generations who endured the struggles with the harsh and sometimes killing winter snows and the mysterious virgin forest.

The town and the people remain in the memory and in the imagination.

Alex Zentner’s website:http://alexizentner.com/alexizentner.com/Touch.html

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