Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Touch by Alexi Zentner

Wow, last week passed in a whirlwind. I only got 2 days of Book Blogger Appreciation Week in before I got swept away. Thanks again to everyone who stopped by and left a comment, it was a pleasure to meet a bunch of new bloggers, and I hope to be paying many of you visits shortly. If you're one of a few new subscribers that have appeared since those lovely two days of BBAW, thanks for sticking around. I hope you will talk to me so I won't feel like I'm swimming around in a fish tank all on my own. ;-)

Now, I'm going to try something I've been very lax about doing in the past few weeks. We'll say weeks. We might mean months. Or something in between weeks and months. Is there something between weeks and months? Forgive me, I digress. I am about to attempt reviewing a book (!!) I read a good time ago, and I'm attempting to psych myself up for it, but really I may just be procrastinating.

Nonetheless, weeks months ago I read a book called Touch by Alexi Zentner. Previous to that I had posted a Waiting on Wednesday post about it, after which I fell profoundly in love with its cover in all its incarnations. Then, after hyping the book mercilessly to myself for a couple months, I actually got and read a copy which, unsurprisingly, did not measure up to all my self-hyping. So then I put it on the backburner for a long time, and then all the sudden here it is on the longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and I'm thinking maybe it's time to revisit Touch after all.

Zentner's debut finds Stephen Boucher, an Anglican minister, returned home to keep watch by his mother's deathbed. As Stephen waits for his mother's inevitable passing, he has many long hours to contemplate his past in Sawgamet and to reflect on how his and his family's lives are woven inextricably into the fabric of a place fraught with myth and mystery. From the moment Stephen's grandfather Jeannot is halted in his westward progress through the virgin territory of British Columbia by his dog Flaireur's refusal to go on any further, Sawgamet takes a firm hold of the Boucher clan.

Sawgamet is richly drawn, a coldly beautiful town filled with ghosts and the darkly magical, a character in its own right. In fact, the strength of this novel lies in Zentner's ability to imbue the gold rush town turned logging town into a place crawling with the mystical. It's easy to picture ghosts, some well-meaning most not, lurking in Zentner's frozen wilderness. Stephen's own memories of his childhood complete with a tragic accident and his grandfather's mysterious return after years of absence are melded with the stories he's always been told of his grandfather and grandmother, stories of impossible magic, burning chemistry, and unexplained treasure.

Stephen's memories ground the story in the realities of a logging town, filled with men carving out a living from the region's dangerous lumber industry. Try though he might, he can no longer cull the truth from the fiction, but the stories have taken on lives of their own, and it's the stories that make Touch soar. As much as the stories with their mythical proportions do transfix, Touch is one book that might very well benefit from one of those diagrams that map out the family tree that sometimes crop up within the first few pages of books. Perhaps with that, I would have wasted much less time and brain power trying to pin down who was related to who and could have dedicated myself to fully enjoying Zentner's tale, parts of which I'm sure went over my head while I was busy trying to figure out who exactly Stephen's uncle was married to. Also, it sometimes seemed that the characters, who should be ultra-sympathetic, sometimes held the reader at arm's length. While I appreciated their stories, I rarely felt like I was fully involved with them. Aside from my own obsessiveness about the family tree, though, Touch is a hauntingly beautiful tale filled with the elusive magic of storytelling.

Fancy hearing some other opinions?

She Reads Novels
Reading Matters
Book Bliss

Oh, how important are the reviews anyway? Wouldn't you pick up this book based on the pretty covers alone? Which is your favorite? Or are you that rare creature that really doesn't judge a book by its cover?


  1. I already put a hold request in for this one based on Kim's post, but if I hadn't yours would have totally sold me! :D

    I usually request books on my library's site, which doesn't include covers, so I'm not SUPER affected by them (I'm much more likely to read a book just because the author has an exotic name, LOL), but when I browse the nonfic new releases, I am drawn to pretty spines. ;)

  2. Isn't if funny how hype can flavor your opinion of a book? The covers are gorgeous - I think I like the one with the axe the best.

  3. Oooh, those are some pretty book covers. I like all of them. Too bad the story isn't as intriguing.

  4. Eva - I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of Touch! A pretty spine is always good, too, particularly when trying to snake out the really good books from the library book sale shelves before the "competition" can get to them. What? Library book sale-ing isn't supposed to be a competitive sport? ;-)

    Kathy - Hype is a powerful thing! I think if I had to pick a favorite it would be the shimmery last one - it kind of fits with a particular scene from the book too, which gives it a little extra boost.

    Susan - It's one of those books that's not bad, it's just not as good as you're hoping it'll be from those spectacular covers (and the premise, of course)! Ah well, guess you can't win 'em all. :)

  5. Those are absolutely gorgeous covers. I understand the frustration of trying to figure out a family tree. That can really suck the enjoyment out of a book.