Touch by Alexi Zentner

In Touch, the debut novel by Alexi Zentner, we follow the story of three generations of one family who live and work in Sawgamet, a small Canadian mining and logging town. Our narrator, Stephen, has just returned to Sawgamet after a long absence because his mother is dying. Back in his childhood home Stephen becomes lost in memories – and shares some of those memories with the reader. Foremost in Stephen’s thoughts is the day his grandfather, Jeannot, came back to the town after disappearing for many years and announced that he had come to “raise the dead”.

With tales of sea witches and creatures that live in the forest, dogs that sing and golden caribou, the line between fantasy and reality often becomes blurred. I’m not always a fan of magical realism but it is done perfectly here, and so is the non-linear narrative which moves seamlessly between past and present.

Sawgamet is one of the most vivid settings I’ve encountered in a book for a long time. I could picture Jeannot’s cabin and mill, the miners panning for gold in the river, the suffocating blankets of snow that buried the landscape during the long cold winters. Enchanting and magical one minute, dark and threatening the next, the atmosphere Zentner created was wonderful. His writing is beautiful and elegant and there are some haunting images that have stayed in my mind even after finishing the book.

As a debut novel I thought Touch was hugely impressive and I’ll certainly be looking out for more work by this author in the future.

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