Touch

by Alexi Zentner

Knopf Canada | April 12, 2011 | Hardcover

Touch is rated 3.3333 out of 5 by 3.
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.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 272 pages, 8.55 × 5.89 × 0.95 in

Published: April 12, 2011

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307399443

ISBN - 13: 9780307399441

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Oh Canada I had a difficult time getting in to this book. It took me months to go back to it after reading the first chapter. A common theme among Canadian books is man's struggle with nature, and man's struggle with human nature. This book has HEAPS of both. I'd go as far as to say that nature, specifically Winter, is a character in the novel. It's the murderer, the trickster, the shape-shifter, the joker, the robber... I could go on and on. Suffice to say, I learned that with each winter would come another death, and I wont tell you who dies, but come on, it's Can-Lit! At least 2 people have to die! Those are the rules.
Date published: 2012-01-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It was o.k. Stephen is a priest who has come back to Sawgamet, the small town in B.C. that he grew up in, to take care of his dying mother. While there, memories of his childhood come back to him, as well as stories that his grandfather told about the founding of the town and how he came to be in Sawgamet and his life there. I found it a little bit confusing at times, as we shifted back and forth in three different time periods – Stephen’s “current” time frame, the time period from when he was a child, and the time frame from when his grandfather arrived, founded the town, married, and a particularly harsh winter his grandparents went through when the town was literally buried in snow. It wasn’t always obvious which time period we were suddenly in. I found the grandfather’s story the most interesting (and luckily, that was the majority of the story), but overall, I would consider the book “o.k.”. I have to say that the descriptions of the harsh winters were very vivid.
Date published: 2011-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Touch review It was well written and the author manages to paint a winter scene that had me grabbing a throw blanket to keep warm while reading. Brilliant story with a sense of Native mystical folklore that left me wondering is it real?
Date published: 2011-11-07

– More About This Product –

Touch

Touch

by Alexi Zentner

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 272 pages, 8.55 × 5.89 × 0.95 in

Published: April 12, 2011

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307399443

ISBN - 13: 9780307399441

Read from the Book

The men floated the logs early, in September, a chain of headless trees jamming the river as far as I and the other children could see. My father, the foreman, stood at the top of the chute hollering at the men and shaking his mangled hand, urging them on. “That’s money in the water, boys,” he yelled, “push on, push on.” I was ten that summer, and I remember him as a giant.  Despite his bad hand, my father could still man one end of a long saw. He kept his end humming through the wood as quickly as most men with two hands. But a logger with a useless hand could not pole on the river. When the men floated the trees my father watched from the middle of the jam, where the trees were smashed safely together, staying away from the bobbing, breaking destruction of wood and weight at the edges. The fl oat took days to reach Havershand, he said. There was little sleep and constant wariness. Watch your feet, boys. The spinning logs can crush you. The cold-water deeps beneath the logs always beckoned. Men pitched tents at the center of the jam, where logs were pushed so tightly together that they made solid ground, terra firma, a place to sleep for a few hours, eat hard biscuits, and drink a cup of tea. Once they reached Havershand, the logs continued on by train without my father: either south for railway ties or two thousand miles east to Toronto, and then on freighters to Boston or New York, where the towering trees became beams and braces in strangers’ cities. I remember my father
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From the Publisher

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.

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.

Editorial Reviews

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
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Bookclub Guide

1.

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 novel?

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 the book?

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 Touch.

16. Why does Stephen return to Sawgamet? What does he learn when he does?

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?