cover image Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Kate Beaton. Drawn & Quarterly, $39.95 (448p) ISBN 978-1-77046-289-2

Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) delivers a masterpiece graphic memoir: an immersive, devastating portrait of the two years she worked at Fort McMurray and nearby oil sands in northern Canada. In 2005, Beaton, 21 and desperate to pay off her student loans, left her small Nova Scotia town for the booming wilds of an oil operation in Alberta. The human and environmental toll of energy dependence are painstakingly recorded on her Heart of Darkness–like journey: facing relentless sexism and misogyny (she estimates that men outnumber women 50 to 1 at the camps), Beaton moves through a series of gigs—doling out wrenches at “tool cribs,” desk work in the supply office—and acutely feels the object of intense scrutiny; the crass remarks are endless, and at one point men line up around the building to get a look at the new girl. When hundreds of ducks become caught in a hazardous waste “tailings pond” around the time a coworker dies on site, Beaton begins to connect individual and global consequences. While she documents her own traumas, Beaton also steps back to observe how the isolation can transform ordinary people, remarking, for instance, that hearing catcalls delivered in the familiar accent of her Cape Breton home region is especially cutting. The homespun drawings and intuitive pacing capture both the dreariness and occasional splendor of this frozen world, with flashes of the author’s trademark humor in the banter between her crusty coworkers. Beaton makes a shattering statement on the costs of ignorance and neglect endemic in the fuel industry, in both powerful discussions of its sociopolitical ramifications and her own keenly observed personal story. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (Sept.)