cover image Ducks, Newburyport

Ducks, Newburyport

Lucy Ellmann. Biblioasis, $19.95 trade paper (728p) ISBN 978-1-77196-307-7

This shaggy stream-of-consciousness monologue from Ellmann (Sweet Desserts) confronts the currents of contemporary America. On the surface it’s a story of domestic life, as the unnamed female narrator puts it: “my life’s all shopping, chopping, slicing, splicing, spilling.” Her husband, Leo, is a civil engineer; they have “four greedy, grouchy, unmanageable kids”; she bakes and sells pies; and nothing more eventful happens than when she gets a flat tire while making a pie delivery. Yet plot is secondary to this book’s true subject: the narrator’s consciousness. Written mostly in a single sentence, with clauses each beginning with “the fact that...,” readers are privy to intimate facts (“the fact that I don’t think I really started to live until Leo loved me”), mundane facts (“the fact that ‘fridge’ has a D in it, but ‘refrigerator’ doesn’t”), facts thought of in the shower (“the fact that every murderer must have a barber”), and flights of associative thinking (“Jake’s baby potty, Howard Hughes’s milk bottles of pee, opioid crisis, red tide”). Interspersed throughout is the story of a lion mother, separated from her cubs and ceaselessly searching for them. This jumble of cascading thoughts provides a remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds, such as the Flint water crisis, gun violence, and the Trump presidency. The narrator is a fiercely protective mother trying to raise her children the only way she knows how, in a rapidly changing and hostile environment. Ellmann’s work is challenging but undoubtedly brilliant. [em](Sept.) [/em]