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,
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.
4. Stephen describes himself sifting through different versions
of the past as he remembers his childhood, his mother's life, his
grandfather's stories. How do history and myth intertwine in the
novel, and with what effect? Are we meant to take Jeannot's stories
of the past at face value?
5. In what ways is Touch a Canadian
6. To you, who is the most memorable character in
Touch, and why?
7. What does the frame of the narration - Stephen, in his
stepfather's study, telling us his versions of a past he has at
second or third hand - add to Touch? (You might
want to consider how the stories he tells would seem different
without this frame.)
8. How do the different characters deal with tragedy and loss in
9. Does Touch remind you of any other novels?
Which, and why?
10. Which of the many romantic relationships in the book is the
most meaningful and memorable, and why?
11. What roles do hot and cold play in the book, with what
effect? How are extremes of hot and cold described as both inside
and outside the characters, and why?
12. The philosopher Charles Taylor has written about our era as
a "Secular Age," in which the rise of rationalism has left the
world bereft of enchantment. What do we lose when we leave spirits
and gods behind? What does Stephen have to say about what happens
to Sawgamet as it becomes modern?
13. What does Touch have to tell us
about men? You can consider the father-and-son relationships in the
book, but how do grandfathers, stepfathers and uncles matter too?
How does Stephen relate to the different men in his life, as a
child and as a grown-up?
14. What is the significance of the Bible in the novel?
15. Describe the importance of work in
16. Why does Stephen return to Sawgamet? What does he learn when
17. What are the different versions of "raising the dead" in the
novel, and how do they matter?
18. How would you describe the style in which
Touch is written?
19. What do you make of the ending of the book?