TALKING TO ANGELS by Robert Perkins


A Life Spent at High Latitudes
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 A fragile, dolorous triptych of derangement, exploration, and loss from the Arctic-rambling filmmaker Perkins (Into the Great Solitude, 1991, etc.). This memoir starts with the 19-year-old Perkins being packed off, raving, to a psychiatric hospital. His mind is in chaos, and his days at the institution--doped up, surrounded by comrades-in-unbalance, wrapped in wet sheets for being a bad boy- -are like a dream, a really bad dream (the angels of the title are, in part, the none-too-sensitive ward attendants at the hospital). When he manages to tuck in the frayed edges, he heads for an equally unforgiving terrain: the Arctic Northwest Territories of Canada, there to serve as a weather watcher for the region's pilots. His stint completed, he embarks on a long, moseying canoe voyage along far-north riverways, frequently getting out of the water to explore the hinterland, something few Arctic travelers do. Here he finds the setting that will make his reputation as a writer and public-television filmmaker; as much as any outlander can, he stitches himself right into the landscape, at one point communing with a dead musk ox for a few days, emerging with an undistilled reverence for both beast and place. Then the story jumps to the year following his young wife's death of cancer (another of the title's angels, this time truly angelic), as Perkins must once again darn an unraveled sleeve of life. Back in Massachusetts, where his wife had undergone treatment (and also where he had done time in the asylum), Perkins frames a series of quick remembrances of her, capturing the unsettled peace he has made with dark circumstance. Perkins's 46 years have been a long, hard haul, but the guy's an artful survivor, unafraid to face the demons.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8070-7078-5
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1996