cover image Touch


Alexi Zentner, Norton, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-07987-6

Returning home on the eve of his mother's death, an Anglican priest is haunted by memories of his far northern Canada hometown and its intertwined history with his family in Zentner's eerie, elegiac debut. Sitting by his mother's bedside, Stephen recalls his childhood of 30 years earlier, watching the men fell trees and float the logs downriver before the winter freeze. Stephen's father, Pierre, was a logger despite his mangled hand, but after Pierre and Stephen's sister die in an ice skating accident, only stories remain of him, and Stephen later passes these along to his own daughters just as stories of Jeannot, Pierre's father who left Sawgamet when Pierre was an infant, were kept alive as family lore. Soon after Pierre's death, though, Jeannot, a town founder, reappears and insists he has returned to find his wife, though she's been dead for years. The tales he tells Stephen—of golden caribou, malevolent wood spirits, and a winter that lasted so long it buried the town in snow until July—are woven in so seamlessly that the reader never questions their validity. The rugged wilderness is captured exquisitely, as is Stephen's uncommon childhood, and despite a narrative rife with tragedy, Zentner's elegant prose keeps the story buoyant. (Apr.)