Touch by Alexi Zentner


Stephen, the narrator of this tale of a tiny village in the wilds of Canada early in this century, has returned at age 40 with his wife and three daughters.  Sawgamet began with a gold boom when Stephen’s grandfather Jeannot happened on a nugget of gold after his dog would not move. Stephen ruminates on the stories of the three generations of his family and the village during the night as his mother is dying.

The stories of the real, if almost mythical men, are entwined with the magical horrific creatures who embody “the woods,” which exacts its pound of flesh from those who take its treasures.  There are the shape shifters, the loup-garou, the mahahas, and the wehtiko, a man who turns into a monster as a punishment for cannibalism. I read this based on Reading Matter‘s recommendation; she describes the book as having “a teensy bit of cannibalism.”  I think I glossed over that bit and just as well; it’s a wonderful book.

Although I am not one for fantasy, these stories were mesmerizing.  Shortly after Jeannot and Martine were married, they went down the river to enjoy a beautiful fall day.

Jeannot noticed that the tree trunks and bushes near the trail glittered with gold dust, and they wondered if the forest grew its own gold, but then they came to realize that the caribou seemed to be shedding gold as it walked.  The air was thick with it, and the few beams of light that came cleanly through the forest canopy appeared as spears of gold.  They kept still, unable to move, enthralled and awed by the sight of the powerful caribou pushing and grinding against the golden boulder.  With every push of his antlers or scrape of his side, gold dust sprang into the air.  The glade was full of the floating dust, and in the light, Jeannot and Martine thought they had found some sort of fairy kingdom, each fleck of dust a sprite.

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