The 2020 Booker Prize longlist is out now. However, this post is about a book from the 2019 shortlist: Ducks, Newburyport. A small publishing house brought a huge book into this world, it’s highly likely that it should’ve won the Booker, but it didn’t.
Lucy Ellmann is a much-celebrated writer, but remained unknown to many of us who’re not in the know of the American literature. The Booker Prize 2019 shortlist made her a world-renowned figure. Everyone was talking about her book: the almost single-sentence stream of consciousness 1000-pages book with an often repeated phrase “the fact that.”
However, that’s how netizens reduce the book to a limited information. All that people seem to know about this book is this: It’s a fat book. Many of my friends didn’t read it. They said: What nonsense is this? Is it even readable? Is she trying to prove a point? Who reads such fat books these days?
Ellmann didn’t write this to prove a point as many of my friends believe. Everything related to a work of art needs to tie back to the theme and setting, and that’s the precise reason why this book uses a form of narrative that it does.
The book is a never-ending train of thoughts of a 40-year-old woman, a mother of four and a baker. Ellmann even mentioned in the interview with The Booker upon getting shortlisted that there are “no punctuation” in thoughts, so it’s logical to reflect the same in the book, too.
Reading all the reviews of Ducks, Newburyport, I thought to myself: Why should I write one? But it’s necessary to point out that the book isn’t only about a ranting mother, it’s a subtle subplot of a lioness finding her cub, too. Ellmann subtly fits in her concerns about climate change in this book.
The fact that it’s by a woman, and the fact that it’s fantastic, it must be read by all; however, I don’t think many would be able to appreciate its academic research, well some of you might not be knowing it, yes, it’s an approved project and, well, much research has gone into writing this book, too; you may find it gibberish, but, it’s not so, the fact that it’s very few “periods,” which makes you feel like counting them when you see them in the subplot narrative, “For all of life is really recoil and leap, leap and recoil,” the fact that the narrator is so expressive about her inner feelings, of course, it’s a series of uninterrupted monologues; for example, here: “the fact that he’d [Leo] probably flip out if he ever found out what’s really involved in feeding, clothing, housing and shepherding four whole kids, kidherding, the fact that my entire life is now spent catering to their needs and demands, cleaning toilets, filling lunchboxes, labeling all their personal property, shampooing and brushing hair,” her critique about how a family functions and how gender roles are strictly applied are best reflected here: “I don’t believe in paying family members to help out with the dishes, the fact that they’re not guests, but they’re not slaves either, as Stacy’s always reminding me,” and she understands very well that a series of uninterrupted sequence can be thought of and confused with one of the connecting phrase, you might be able to appreciate it here: “but I’m too scared of hurting my back lugging all that stuff around, and I’m too busy, the fact that I couldn’t do it when I was pregnant, the fact that I can’t make Leo do it, move crates I mean, not get pregnant,” you get what I’m saying, I’d also like to present that she said certain things explicitly and certain things were told with the beauty of subtlety, check this out: “the fact that there is no Santa and geology didn’t come with portraits of our presidents, the fact that it had help, “Rapid Sssitty, Sssouth Dakota,” James Mason, Trump Tower, beauty pageants, sexual harassment, “ssssexual harassment,” all this while when she’s thinking nonstop like we all do, attention to detail is not missed, constant music playing in the background is depicted by such phrases “♫sassy as can be♫” and she’s taking up an array of issues, of course, that’s how monologues and streams of consciousness works, here a few examples (a) “the fact that that Black Lives Matter campaigner was beaten up by her boyfriend, the fact that she was pregnant and he beat her up so she’d lose the baby, the fact that first he made her swallow laxatives, telling her it was acid, the fact that the stuff people think up to do to each other,” (b) “the fact that I can’t imagine anything worse than being told what to wear by a stranger, hijab, the fact that some manicurist got run over by a customer who refused to pay, the fact that I don’t know how you can enjoy your nails after you killed your manuscript,” (c) “the fact that you work part-time doesn’t mean you have a body part-time,” (d) “women are five times more likely to be killed if there’s a gun on the premises, promises, the fact that fifty women a month are shot dead by their husbands and boyfriends,” (e) “the fact that I wish Leo and I had sex more,” coupled with highly political things she is also able to critique domestic forces that keep a woman off the work she’s interested in doing, look at this sentence fragment depicting how she’s unable to find time to read, “the fact that it doesn’t take all that long to read a book so I don’t know why I don’t, except that the kids always interrupt if I try to read anything, the fact that even the cats interrupt, the last thing I read was about how noble all the Amish were about the Nickel Mines massacre,” and some historical notes shouldn’t be missed either, “the fact some crew member who helped women and children into lifeboats on the Titanic later took part in the Dunkirk evacuation, the fact that he saved a whole lot of people with his own little boat, and earlier in life he’d been a cowboy and then a hobo, riding the rails in America,”
. . .
Of course you deserve a break, and maybe that’s why the subplot works as a buffer for you to relax and contemplate on the current situation, and captures the interaction between the wildlife and human way of living – which means devastating their lives.
There are many conspiracy theories making rounds about COVID-19 pandemic, right? We had a warning sign in this book, too, “Ben tells me bird flu only has to mutate a few more times to cause a global pandemic like Spanish flu and that, if that happens, civilizations will grind to a halt within a year, the fact that I know it’s terrible of me but I can’t help hoping the guy with the scary dog will be one of the first to go,” and civilizations did go to a halt. But the capitalist world seems to care less, and that’s what Ellmann’s prose is hinting at, for example, “And Nestlé only has to pay $200 a year for the water rights.” There seems to be nothing that Ellmann left for us to point out, as angry (pseudo) reviewers do: But what about?
And this book covers one of the billions of monologues happening right now, “The fact that there are seven and a half billion people worrying about their kids, or their moms, or both, as well as taxes and window sills, … the fact that that’s not counting the multiple-personality people who must have several internal monologues going on at once, several each, momologs,” or maybe momologs, right?