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.