Beginning in 1980, Touched is told in four first-person voices recounting one story in sequence.
The first part of the story is told by 33-year-old Linda Young, and covers the day her 12-year-old Robbie announces that a neighbor man has been 'touching him'; the next part is told by Jerry Houseman, the neighbor, and covers the following week, including his arrest; the third part is told by Jerry’s wife, Jeanette, and covers the next several months, including the trial and sentencing; and the last part is told by Robbie himself, 15 years later at age 27, when he returns to town for a high school reunion and is brought face-to-face with his past.
Selected for Barnes & Noble's 'Discover Great New Writers' program in 1996. Adapted for the stage in 2003 by Kirk Fuoss, Head of the Theater Department, St. Lawrence University.
Touched is told in four first-person voices who tell one story in sequence.
In this passage from Part I, Linda Houseman reflects on her son's vulnerability and her own lack of vigilance:
I remember watching Robbie at Clark Lake one afternoon. We had gone to visit friends who have a summer house out there. He was playing on the raft with their son, the same age, playing King of the Mountain. He was stronger than the other boy, slick and shiny in the sun, the curves and lines of his body just suggesting the bulk of the man to come. They swam back in and he hoisted himself from the water and stretched himself on the dock. I watched him dry in the sun—sleek at first, then pebbled with drops. And I remember being struck by how beautiful he was. For a moment he wasn't my son, he was just this beautiful object that you might want to own, to possess. It was a hot summer afternoon—I'd had a beer or two, I was lying in the sun—and I remember coming to and being chilled by the thought of having those feelings find their way into the wrong person. Had I taught him? Did he know? The world was full of crazy people. People who destroy things just because they're beautiful. Did he know about evil in the world? We talked about war and murder, we told him to be careful of strangers. But did we teach him to be careful of friends?
Jerry Houseman's been touching me.
In this passage from Part II, Jerry Houseman reflects on his unwanted obsession with boys of a certain age, an aspect of his character he discovered while he was in the Navy in the Phillipines.
There are depths you just don't know of. You go about your daily life, you eat your breakfast, you read your paper, you watch your television. You say please and thank you. You parallel park. You line up your shoes in the the closet. You go through your whole life like that and you never know what life tastes like. But if you're lucky—or maybe unlucky: I really don't know which—someday you experience something that reaches down inside to the bottom of you and scoops you out clean, then leaves you there like a rag on the floor. You're not the person you thought you were, or the person you'd hoped you'd be. You're something bigger, more complicated. Something smaller, simpler. It twists you all around and you walk with your head on backwards. But at the same time you feel like you've found the center. The center is there, and it glows.
His name was Nestor. He was eleven. I still have dreams about him.
In this passage from Part III, Jeanette Houseman tries to make sense of her husband's strange obsession:
I try to make sense of all this but I don't know how to think about it. I've always thought of child molesters as dirty old men in stained overcoats they picked up at Goodwill. I've pictured them covered with stubble and grime, missing teeth and stinking of gin. When I think about it, I think I probably always thought they drooled. Just the mention of the word molester is revolting, the image it conjurs comes so quick. It's something out of Dickens, this image. And I know my husband isn't that.
But I'm not quite sure anymore what he is. The husband, the father, the child molester—it's a puzzle with too many pieces. Is it because my understanding of human nature is too narrow? Too much determined by what I would like to think human beings are about? I never expected my husband to fall in love with a twelve-year-old boy. And I certainly never expected him to sacrifice himself and his family for that love, just to protect the boy from a few uncomfortable minutes in court. It stretches comprehension too far. It can't all fit in the same picture.
In this passage from Part IV, Robbie comes home for a high school reunion and is drawn back into the life he's tried to escape:
I spent the morning with my dad at the hardware store. It was good to see the gang there—Hezekiah, Arnold, Cynthia—and I've got to say my dad behaved well. He didn't give me the litany of all the reasons I should come back, didn't give me any lectures about finishing school, or getting my life on track. But I did feel him watching me move through the store, talking with the others, and I knew he was trying to picture me there as the manager. I knew he was watching for signs that I was warming to the idea.
It felt pretty much familiar. I'd felt like my dad had been watching me ever since that business with Jerry Houseman fifteen years before. All of a sudden, after that, he took this enormous interest in me, always poking at me with questions. How are things at school? You making friends? Anybody giving you trouble? But if I started telling him about school, or about my friends, pretty soon his eyes would glaze over and he'd go back down to the basement, which really made me feel like a shit.
It came clear to me after a while that he didn't really want the answers, he just wanted reassurance. Wanted me to tell him he was OK, he was a good father. I wasn't fucked up, I wasn't a mess, Jerry Houseman hadn't made me a raving maniac after all. That was about the time I started doing everything I could to convince my father otherwise, just to piss him off.
First novels are so frequently autobiographical, I often feel compelled to emphasize that this one isn't. I wasn't molested as a boy, and I have no sexual interest in children. What this novel is is a response to the public hysteria of the 1980s, those days when you couldn't pick up a paper without being assailed with yet another story of parents and daycare workers visiting all manner of sexual violence on innocent kids—as often as not, it seemed, involving Satanic rituals.
For starters, I simply didn't believe that all that stuff had actually happened—and much of it was later disproved—but beyond that, I was disturbed by the way the story was always presented. Inevitably it was a moralistic story of victims and villains and while I was sure that was sometimes the case, I didn't buy that it was in any way always that simple. Then I read a brilliant two-part piece in the Detroit Free Press by Frank Bruni (now with the New York Times) that convinced me I was right, and the book got underway.
The writing of this book was possibly the most deeply satisfying thing I have ever done. It some ways, it was almost easy. That's not to say I didn't work on it—I worked my butt off—but ultimately it almost seemed to fall out of me, as if the book had already been written and I was just channeling it. It only took two years.
I remember flying back to Boston after delivering the manuscript to my editor in New York. It was morning, the sun was glinting off the sea along the eastern seaboard and chasing up the rivers like mercury running free and I felt the most profound sense of peace I think I've ever felt. It sounds corny to say it maybe, but I felt as if I'd somehow made contact with something much bigger than myself.
I was taken to task by some people—people who hadn't been molested but were sure they knew all about it—but I received many, many more letters from readers who had been molested as kids and who told me that I'd spoken the truth in a way they'd never seen it done before. Some of them vowed to pass the book along to the ministers and social workers who were treating them.
It is not a simple matter, this business of sexual attraction between adults and children, there are a lot of complexities. That's what I tried to explore in this book. And I'm gratified to think that the people who are in the best position to know agreed with my take on it.
"In Touched, Scott Campbell takes the reader through a soul-searching experience where good and evil are not always black and white, but varying shades of gray. He forces us to look at ourselves in a new light, to take a trip through the hidden recesses of the mind and contemplate the complexities that shape us and make us who we are, for better or for worse. This is a very sensitive look at a horrifying social problem, one that most of us try not to even think about. It's also a look at family, and how other members' views of us help to build our own perception of ourselves. Campbell knows people. These people touch your mind and make you grapple with your own hidden demons."
— Jackson [Michigan] Citizen Patriot
"Touched is quietly powerful...Campbell's narrative gently probes at the recognition of the flaws in our love for each other."
— Chicago Tribune
"Delicate, eloquent, tinged with pain...One is unsure whether to commend or condemn Campbell for his veracity; at times, the passages are too unsettling to read."
— Boston Globe
"Touched dares to deal with sex between adults and minors, one of the most volatile social issues of this or any time...Scott Campbell has tackled this subject and given us an authentic way to think about it. He has shown us that even the most unattractive human impulses spring from being merely human...If this novel has anything to teach us—and it surely does—the lesson is that we should not bother to look for easy answers."
— Bay Windows
"Campbell's powerful and provocative novel grabs hold of you and won't let go. I couldn't stop reading it, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. It knocked me out, not just because of the subject matter, but for the sheer artistry of Campbell's prose...In language both lean and poetic, Campbell creates four distinct and authentic voices, both masculine and feminine. He takes us into these character's hearts and minds, so that we come to understand them, even if we can't excuse them...This is a novel that deserves not only praise, but a wider readership than it is likely to get. It's a book that will make you think, that will make you question."
— Private Eye Weekly [Utah]
"Scott Campbell's novel Touched is so graceful and beautifully written that the emotional wallops it delivers—one after another—come with such jolting shocks we find ourselves continually astonished, emotionally dislocated. Campbell's narrative has no trick surprises or unearned revelations—it is as straightforward as a newspaper account, an intake interview—but it understands human emotions and actions with a clarity and an empathy few other writers approach...Touched does not judge its characters, nor does it excuse any of their behaviors—all of them are, in retrospect, harsh enough on themselves—but it does allow us into their lives in a way that is compassionate, unique, startling and ultimately moving. But more than this, Touched makes us realize how vital it is for us all to be able to write, read, discuss, and argue the more complicated aspects of human actions, love, feelings, and desires. What is finally shocking about Touched is not the actions or the desires of some of its characters but the fact that we hardly ever get to read about them with the sensitivity and the honesty Scott Campbell gives us here."
— Lambda Book Report
"This is a book I simply couldn't put down. I started reading it late at night, I didn't want to stay up all night but I could not stop reading this book because the narrative was so compelling. I felt on completing it that my range of sympathy and understanding for people had been greatly enhanced. There is great humanity behind the writing. People will be enlarged by this book, their humanity will be enlarged, their compassion. I find that terrifically engaging. I think it's stunning."
— Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife
"The simplicity of the language and images in Touched belies its depth of thought...it questions every one of your assumptions about family, love, and safety."
— Audrey Schulman, author of The Cage