DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT by Lucy Ellmann

DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Postmodern romp by expat novelist Ellmann (Tom the Obscure, 2014, etc.).

The lioness whose tale opens and punctuates Ellmann’s Ulysses-sized saga is resolutely fierce in protecting her litter of cubs, who, like her, are “too brave to despair.” Not so the humans who populate Ellmann’s pages, residents of a Trump-era Ohio in which there is no ground solid enough to walk on, metaphorically speaking. The narrator, a materfamilias whose voice burbles in a flooded stream of consciousness, seeks solidity: Her operative phrase, found time and again on each period-scant page, is “the fact that”: “the fact that we’re in for a wineless old age, oi veh, OJ, the fact that Leo has to go to Philly tomorrow and I’m not so good on my own….” That may be, but much as Leo, her partner amid life’s uncertainties, cares for her, she’s forced to contend with difficult, distant children and everyday travails (“the fact that Trump wants to take cover away from 630,000 Ohioans who took up Obamacare last year, and if he gets away with it, some of those poor souls are possibly going to die, the fact that I’m glad we’re not on Obamacare”). All this memory and reflection and agonizing comes in an onrushing flow of language that slips often—deliberately, it seems, but too obviously—into games of throwaway word association: “Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dustin Hoffman, The Tales of Hoffman….” One wonders why Abbie Hoffman is missing from the picture, but it’s no surprise that a worried note that the Amazon is polluted should be immediately followed by a reference to Jeff Bezos. There are lovely bits of poetry and, well, fact scattered throughout these pages (“the fact that recipes change over time through forgetting stuff,” “the fact that you don’t want to become a bitter old woman, it’s plenty bad enough just being old”), but it’s awfully hard work getting at them, and for too little payoff.

Literary experimentation that, while surely innovative, could have made its point in a quarter the space.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-77196-307-7
Page count: 728pp
Publisher: Biblioasis
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2019




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