Best of Canada: "Touch" by Alexi Zentner
I first reviewed Touch in October 2011 after it was long listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It was also shortlisted for the 2011 Governor General's Literary Award, the 2011 Center for Fiction's Flahery-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the 2012 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, and the 2011 Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Zentner's second novel, The Lobster Kings, will be released in 2013.
Stephen, an Anglican priest, has returned to his hometown of Sawgamet, a northwest, north-woods boomtown gone bust on the eve of his mother's death. As his family settles in, Stephen finds himself confronting his past, its mysteries and its losses.
Alexi Zentner's Touch is a beautiful story of a pioneering family, the three generations that carved their place in the wilderness and the ways in which the wilderness remains forever imprinted on their lives. Monsters, witches and golden caribou roam the woods as the townspeople face love and death amidst the crippling cold of the logging town.
Evocative, stunning, haunting, page-turner - the perfect words to describe Zentner's debut novel. From the beginning I was drawn in and could not put the book down, which surprised me. From reading the book jacket this did not seem like a book I would be interested in at all but I gave it a try because of its Giller Prize nomination. This book proves once again why I love the Giller because it introduces me to incredible books I would have passed over otherwise.
The book jumps around between the stories of Stephen, his parents and his grandparents. Zentner's beautiful and descriptive language puts you comfortably in a harsh habitat and makes you feel as though you understand life in this unfamiliar terrain. His writing does what we ask of books, to transport us to new places and make those places a part of us. Easily one of my favourite books of the year.