Resnicoff (Tom, the Talking Toilet, 2012, etc.) recounts the year in 1968 he spent living in an isolated Alaskan village as part of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).
Resnicoff’s book often feels more like a collection of anecdotes than a fully formed memoir. Most of the chapters are only one or two pages, and the reader isn’t given enough information about the author’s life before and after his time in Alaska to get a complete sense of what his time there meant to him. That said, the material he provides is incredibly entertaining. Resnicoff makes it clear from the book’s outset that he didn’t join VISTA to fulfill any philanthropic yearnings; instead, he was hoping to avoid the draft and spend a year in Hawaii, the state he said he’d like to be assigned to, especially since he hated New York winters. Unfortunately, VISTA not only ignored his request, they sent him to the coldest place in the country. When he arrives in Anchorage, he’s told that he and another man will be sent to a tiny village called Sleetmute since the place “was VISTA’s lowest priority, hardly even a village in their eyes, and that when, not if, we both quit it would not embarrass the VISTA Alaska program.” But Resnicoff doesn’t quit. He stays in Sleetmute the entire year, and although he doesn’t quite change the lives of the Eskimos living in the village, he does befriend them and learn how to drive a dog sled, hunt for moose and survive when it’s 54 degrees below zero. Resnicoff’s encounters fascinate not only because they introduce readers to a world few have ever seen, but also because he’s a gifted storyteller. He channels his 24-year-old self’s confusion and naïveté in a way that is by turns hilarious, endearing and often quite moving. Particularly insightful and poetic are passages that describe his viewing the northern lights for the first time and what he felt upon seeing a 14-year-old girl who died from tuberculosis. Also included are several lovely pictures of Sleetmute’s landscape and people.
An amusing, worthwhile read that could use some fleshing out.