Saturday, August 3, 2013

Storyteller's Family Tales

Touch by Alexi Zentner

After reading the book, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, I started recommending it a lot, and thus started looking for readalikes. I found Touch by Alexi Zentner. Both have similar qualities. They take place in Alaska (Snow Child) and British Columbia (Touch) which are neighbors and share harsh climates, deep woods, and difficult living. Both stories are in the genre of magical realism, a genre characterized by its use of reality, or real life situations, with a few mystical elements. Everyday life is the same, but there is one thing that is magical or different, such as a character’s ability to do something out of the ordinary, or unexplainable occurrences. Both books deal with the settling of wild lands. In my opinion, both were fabulous books.

Stephen is a middle aged man living in the 1940s with three daughters of his own, and he has moved back home to Sawgamet. His mother is on death’s doorstep and therefore, Stephen begins relating the story of his parents and grandparents and the founding of this town. Each story pulls you through time and illustrates the rich history of this family and place. Jeanot, Stephen’s grandpa, walked to Sawgamet and made it his own, discovering gold and then the richness of the trees. He began a lumber company, continued by his son, Stephen’s father. The stories have magical elements thrown in, such as the appearance of strange creatures and ghosts, but it is not a foreign world.

This is a storyteller’s novel. Stephen is certainly a storyteller, relating each story to the audience, and the novel had the rhythm, flow, and language of a storyteller. It was well done. I got lost at points about which story belonged to what person, but I wanted to keep discovering more about these people and this mysterious place. I also wondered at the end what the point was. Was it just to remember times gone by as the last of an older generation died or was I missing the point?

This was truly a novel that was more about the journey than the end result and it was beautiful. The writing is atmospheric, taking you to the brink of the known world and sending you into an untamed forest where creatures, only spoken about in legend, still roam.

It seems I have a penchant for backwoods magical realism. I also seem to love tales told in the storytelling style. They feel more natural and flow with ease. Zentner did a wonderful job with this novel. It makes me long for the distant woods and the mystery of nature. Perhaps I’ll take a lesson from Thoreau and shrug off society for the blessings of nature. Then again, maybe I need to work…

If you’re a fan of the settling of forest lands, or magical realism, or this kind of storytelling narration, here are some readalikes:

Wild Life by Molly Gloss

If you enjoy engrossing storytelling, you should visit our Storytelling on the Lawn program August 8th at the Read House. Sign up here. 

~Kristin M.

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