To date, I’ve appeared on two podcasts discussing Ducks, Newburyport (NovelClass and The Two Month Review), staff picked it, included it in my year of reading, and tweeted a whole bunch about it because I was so enthralled and excited while I read. If you’re a reader I’ve gotten to know, I’ve probably ambushed you in the store at least once to recommend Ducks, Newburyport. On February 8 at 4PM I will be at Black Hen Tattoo in Portland, Maine getting a Ducks, Newburyport tattoo because the store sold one hundred copies in 2019. (Yes, pic tk.) (Also, the Globe wrote about my tattoo here.) Since the store has sold over 150 copies before the end of January, a few of us will be making some short movies featuring the mountain lion storyline.
I’ve spent so much time with Ducks, Newburyport (I mean, it’s a long book) that it’s hard to know where to start in making my case for your vote. Do I start with how Ellmann’s usual publisher rejected it and it fell to two small presses (Galley Beggar in the UK and Biblioasis in North America) to take the risk on a thousand-page, feminist, stream-of-consciousness novel and use that to argue that a vote for Ducks, Newburyport is also a vote for small presses and the risks they so often take to keep our literature interesting? Maybe start with some of the bigger picture stuff, like how it’s actually far easier to read than it first appears because the narrative voice is so natural and earnest it is easy to settle in and flow along with the stream, or how it has a completely traditional plot arc and an absolute desk-flipper of a climax? Or maybe jump right into the fine grain stuff, how “the fact that” is a phrase almost always edited out of prose and the narrator, a woman and mother who does almost all of her labor in the home is an identity almost always edited out of history, how the presence of the mountain lion narrative tells us there is an additional entity that can see and is presenting both the mind of the lion and the mind of our narrator, how there is a fractal-like structure to how the stream of consciousness moves and how you can pull any “sentence” out and see pretty much the entire structure of the story? Or maybe this is a “put it in the broader context of literature” crowd and I can talk about how it continues the modernist project but does so in a way that brings Joyce and Stein and Proust and Woolf and Musil into a single conversation?
In many ways, Ducks, Newburyport is why we do this. Why authors write books, why publishers publish them, why booksellers sell them, and all of that work for little money. I see my work recommending it as, in part, payback for everything that books have given to me as a reader and a writer and also, pay-forward as the more a book like this sells, the more books that it will be published. So think of your vote as a small, private, three part statement; valuing Ducks, Newburyport itself, thanking all the books that have come before it, and helping big important books get published after it.