Fabulous Fiction Firsts #263
Touch *, Alexi Zentner's debut is set in Sawgamet, a north woods boomtown gone bust, where the cold of winter breaks the glass of the schoolhouse thermometer, and the dangers of working in the cuts are overshadowed by the mysteries and magic lurking in the woods. Stephen, a pastor, is at home on the eve of his mother's funeral, thirty years after the mythic summer his grandfather returned to the town in search of his beloved but long-dead wife. And like his grandfather, Stephen is forced to confront the losses of his past.
"Touch introduces you to a world where monsters and witches oppose singing dogs and golden caribou, where the living and the dead part and meet again in the crippling beauty of winter and the surreal haze of summer."
It brings to mind another powerful debut Three Day Road by fellow Canadian Joseph Boyden. It is a stunning tale of brutality, survival, and rebirth set in Northern Ontario where Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman journeyed to retrieve Xavier Bird, her only relation, who has returned from the trenches of Europe, gravely wounded and addicted to morphine.
Sharron Smith, a librarian who knows everything Canadian (mostly books and authors), also suggests Gil Adamson's The Outlander as a readalike for its setting (wilderness); the suspense (the deadly pursuit of a young woman accused of murder); the style (slow and lyrical unfolding of the storyline); and the elements of magical realism.
* = Starred review