We know history can chase us, that our past ends no more definitively than it begins. But maybe it waits for us, too, in those places we hoped to escape it. In TOUCH, narrator Stephen describes his hometown of Sawgamet, a Canadian village born in a gold rush, where lumber islands from the dangerous “cuts” float downriver to the world. One winter his sister falls through the ice and their father jumps in after her. Months later their outstretched hands are spotted below the frozen surface, reaching but forever inches apart. The river’s violence seems arbitrary to the boy, unexplained and terrible.
Disconnections like this, especially between generations, animate the novel’s mystery. Much later, with daughters of his own, Stephen returns from Montreal to bury his mother and reconcile with the place that has taken so much. The family’s unhappy legacy leads to enigmatic grandfather Jeannot, who settled the town and matured with it, prosperous and content beside wife Martine until one savage winter forces monstrous choices the woods and river will not forget. By the end we’ve learned with Stephen about scaled creatures, woodland ghosts, and how broken people reach for one another because they can, or they must.