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Ducks, Newburyport

5 stars
2,221 (44%)
4 stars
1,386 (27%)
3 stars
669 (13%)
2 stars
335 (6%)
1 star
349 (7%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,430 reviews
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,051 reviews4,122 followers
June 24, 2019
That fact that this is a 1000-page novel in the form of a list of an Ohio homemaker/baker’s anxieties and neuroses, the fact that across these intoxicating and scathing and fear-scorched pages the whole of contemporary America is encapsulated, the fact that a semicolon is never once wielded for the whole production, the fact that the housewife represents the lost moral conscience of an amoral nation, that fact that she refers to the ass as the sit-me-down-upon, the fact that reading this novel will reaffirm your love of uncompromising maximalist masterpieces, and strengthen your loathing for humankind and its destructors, the fact that there are more sub-lists within the central list than a bucket of Rabelaises, the fact that interrupting the list is a narrative concerning a lioness whose cubs are stolen, the fact that this narrative illustrates in miniature the manner in which human beings punch everything in the face repeatedly and never stop, that fact that Arvo Pärt is referenced four times, the fact that Brexit is not, the fact that a novel spanning over five times the length of the average novel and written without paragraph breaks with no linear structure or character “development” or pageturning plot is more fucking entertaining that whatever piddle is being released from Random House this week, the fact that Ellmann has written the Great American Novel for our times, that fact that it falls to a swaggering small press to release this Leviathan, the fact that the publisher sent me a lollipop along with my review copy, the fact that the novel is coming soon, the fact that it exists and you will have the pleasure and privilege of reading this work of serious and searing kindness and humanity.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
792 reviews
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June 3, 2022
Thoughts at p 50 of Ducks, Newburyport

This is one of those books that make me stop in my reading tracks and think about how I read, as in what's going on in my mind as my eyes glide left to right across the page then return left before sliding right again like an old fashioned typewriter, though of course my eyes are not typewriters but type readers, and very experienced ones having focused on billions of typed words in their lifetime. But have they really focused clearly on all the words they've supposedly 'read'? Haven't there been times when they've lost focus, when the words became blurry, and my attention wandered away from the meaning on the page towards things of more import to my own life. Yes, it's true that my attention sometimes skips away from the matter in hand (such as a book I'm reading) and goes rummaging through some backroom of my mind. That can be interesting but it can also be scary because there are things stored away in the back rooms of my mind that aren't pretty, and there are so many of them that if I remove one thing in order to examine it, others tumble after it, and before you can say 'ducks newburyport', a whole string of vaguely connected things have been brought into the light and examined, not deeply, just in a quick assessment sort of way like objects in a bric-a-brac shop that you might pick up for a moment, then put down again. Often, of course, something I'd read just before my mind wandered inspired the particular direction of the the backroom rummage which can sometimes turn out to be pleasant, and even fruitful, but I'd really prefer if my mind didn't wander while I read.
I'm sure you're not wondering what all this has to do with Ducks, Newburyport because I think most readers know already that the book is made up of long strings of vaguely connected thoughts. So, yes, Lucy Ellmann's narrator's vaguely connected thoughts are causing my eyes to lose focus quite frequently, and my attention to wander amongst my own collections of connections...


Thoughts at page 120

My mind seems to be wandering less than it did at the beginning which is an improvement but on the other hand I've become seriously irritated by the narrator's habit of affixing the phrase 'the fact that' before each of her thoughts even though there is rarely any follow-on to 'the fact that' as in 'the fact that she uses that phrase without a follow-on means that I get super irritated', no, her 'the fact that' is just 'the fact that' this, followed by 'the fact that' that, though I did notice one place where she had a follow-on: the fact that even though it’s crudely made, it’s still very recognizably an elephant, a tiny pale green elephant, with a roughly carved trunk and tusks. I have to say, I kind of cheered when she did that follow-on, but she mostly uses 'the fact that' as a way of artificially listing her strings of thoughts. Perhaps I'll get used to it..


Thoughts at page 180

Well, I haven't got used to 'the fact that' and I don't believe I ever will. I've also noticed that the narrator uses 'the fact that' when listing thoughts that are naturally connected already and therefore don't need to be artificially connected, as for example: the fact that we suddenly decided to make this whole load of pomanders as Christmas presents for people, the fact that Phoebe was always coming up with ambitious schemes like that, the fact that it took much longer than expected and we got sick to our stomachs from the smell of cloves, the fact that it hurt too, the fact that actually pomanders look better if you don’t completely cover them but we didn’t know that, so we covered every inch with cloves, the fact that we didn’t leave one little spot empty on the whole orange, the fact that the whole orange was brown with cloves, and we really hurt our fingers doing it, pressing all those sharp cloves into the oranges, the fact that we should’ve used thimbles or something, or not done it at all, the fact that I feel a little nauseous just thinking about it...—see what I mean?

But the useful thing about all this is that while I'm being irritated and distracted, I'm asking myself why I'm still reading, just as you may be doing now. The only conclusion I can come to is that I'm a sucker for words, that words laid out on a page hold an irresistible attraction. And it helps that I'm not put off by 1000 page books or by 'stream of consciousness' narratives, or by word lists, whether they are related through sound or through meaning. And Lucy Ellmann definitely likes word lists.

Thoughts at page 250

So I've been reading Ducks, Newburyport on and on, and on and on, until my arm became tired holding it, and I'd gotten far enough into it that the thickness of the book as it lay open on the cushion I'd begun using to prop it up, caused the type in the inner edges of the pages to be almost impossible to read even when I tried to press the pages flat.

At that point, I switched to an ebook version, solving the problem of the weight, and also the problem of the print dropping into the gutter between the pages. But I haven't solved the problem of the constantly recurring 'the fact that' though I try to skip over it as I read. But that's easier said than done. It somehow snags my eye every time no matter what I do.

However my irritation has eased a little due to my growing interest in the story aspect of this book. In the early pages, for example, there's a casual mention of a gun lying on the seat of someone's car. Chekhov has ensured that most readers will prick up their reading ears when a gun is mentioned. Lucy Ellmann's narrator circles the gun theme constantly making frequent references to gun law, open carrying, householders being expected to have guns on the premises, etc, so it soon becomes clear that this book is making the proliferation of guns in the US today, and the deaths that ensue, a central theme. It also becomes clear that the environment is a key issue, plus the problem of noxious substances in water, food and drink causing illness and death.

Mothers and children and the bonds between them is another big focus not only in the brief episodes about a mountain lioness and her cubs that are inserted in gaps between the narrator's much longer sections but also throughout those longer sections as the narrator's thoughts hop from one of her four children to another. Her thoughts often circle back to her own childhood too, and to her much-loved mother who died years before. I noted a passage early in the book where she remembers a lecture she attended: the fact that I remember Declan Kiberd’s talk at Notre Dame, the fact that I do remember, and he said people fetishize the past, in Ireland, the fact that he said the Irish were drunk on remembrance, like Hamlet and the ghost, the fact that I can’t understand people who want to go over and over old times, getting all nostalgic and stuff, the fact that I’m scared of old times, the fact that old times are soggy, saggy cradles of regret…
As I scroll the pages and realise how much the narrator goes over old times herself, and how obsessed she is with her mother and with regrets concerning the past, that quote becomes more interesting. The memory theme is one of the most powerful in the book.

Thoughts at 40%
So I've kept on reading the ebook version, but the trouble with an ebook is that you can't see the pages on the left increasing and the ones on the right decreasing. I found myself checking the 'percentage read' a lot, and feeling dispirited that I was still at 31%, for example, after I'd checked many times. I wondered how I would ever finish this book. I've begun to identify with the narrator, especially when she says things like the fact that February’s the shortest month but somehow it feels the longest…
I've also begun to harbour seriously unpleasant thoughts about innocent things like cinnamon rolls, they are mentioned so often. I understand that the narrator runs a home baking business, and is making rolls and pies all day every day, and that many of the actions she repeats are automatic, allowing her thoughts to roam over her world as she works. What I don't understand is that the author believes that I will be happy to read every one of those 998 pages of thoughts, the seemingly trivial as well as the possibly relevant.

I've been thinking too about other books I've enjoyed where narrators spend a lot of time recounting their thoughts, often while performing daily tasks as in Mrs Dalloway and Ulysses, or simply thinking over the past as in Proust's long saga, but the book I was most reminded of here was Claire Louise Bennett's Pond. Her narrator cooks and cleans while her thoughts circle the serious issues in her life before inevitably becoming mired in the trivia of the everyday just as in Ellmann's narrator's case. Both books, unlike the others I mentioned, contain no dialogue; we are in the narrators' thoughts all the time. But Bennet is beautifully economical with her narrator's stream of consciousness, and each sentence is a dream to read, a perfect reward for spending so much time in one character's head. Lucy Ellmann doesn't really do complete sentences, beautiful or otherwise, except in the mountain lion segments which are a very small percentage of the book. But I have to admit that there is the odd lovely bit here and there in the narrator's segments too, this one for example, again related to memory: the fact that it sometimes feels like my memory has very, very ancient times in it, like the dark ages, stuff from long ago that’s pretty dim, and then come the medieval times that aren’t quite as impenetrable but still pretty blurry, snow flurry, furry, curry in a hurry, and then there’s the Renaissance, which is the more recoverable stuff, and then there’s recent stuff that’s clear and vivid, like Gillian [her seven year old] crying about the meaning of life…
In spite of such interludes my patience with the narrator has been wearing very thin especially because she spends a lot of timing watching episodes of 'Little House on the Prairie' and old movies while she bakes, and her thoughts ramble over the plots, the characters and the actors. In order to avoid all those plot summaries, plus all her dream fragments and thoughts about the jigsaw puzzles she does to relax, not to mention the stuff about the pets her family had over the decades (I really couldn't keep track of those pets, their names, when they died, etc,) I decided to adopt a hopscotch method of reading. I'd search a word—'lion', for example—and read a couple of the search results related to that word. Thanks to that method, I've reached 40%, and now I'm thinking that maybe I can stick with this book after all. And that has made all the difference.

At 50%
The hopscotch approach has began to work against me. Having created what amounts to a scatter of bullet holes in the text by skipping chunks of it, I've begun to worry about what I might have missed: The Road Not Taken

So I stopped skipping and started reading normally again from the 40% point. I've even circled back to search for bits of key text I might have missed, as in references to the words: mommy, gun, duck; and the characters, Ronnie, Stacy and Leo. I found some good bits, and even one of my favourite words hiding in a string of unrelated forgetables : petrichor! I love that word. And tintinnabulum. Great rewards.

Another reward: while I was doing the searching/finding process, I noticed that my attention had stopped wandering and that my mind was taking more and more notice of the interesting patterns in the narrator's strings of thought. Even the cinnamon rolls have become significant in their own way. I am very grateful that my lapses of focus, plus my irritation in the early pages, well, not just the early pages, the first three hundred or so pages, did not stop me reading on—because they might well have, it was touch and go there for a while, up in the air, a leap in the dark, uncharted waters, very muddy waters in fact, and my feet were pretty cold...

Days later
Ok, I went too far with the listing in the previous paragraph, and anyway, I'm guessing you simply want to know if I finished the book. I did.
Then you might want to know if it was worth the weeks I spent reading it. It was.
This is why:
The book is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. At the beginning, you've got a huge pile of pieces: every 'the fact that' phrase being a separate piece. And those separate pieces are not regular shaped. No, they are all oddly shaped and you think it's impossible that you're ever going to be able to put the picture called 'Ducks, Newburyport' together. But then you start to spot pieces that might match up, some of which you'd discarded early on as having no elements in them that could possibly connect to anything else. Slowly the intricate picture starts to come together. When that happens, it's such a reward for persisting. You are in reader heaven from then on, and you conclude that this book makes for a very clever and very worthwhile puzzle. And why wouldn't you keep reading the thousands of 'the fact that' puzzle fragments, because if you weren't reading the pages that contain them, you'd be reading other pages, and the chances are they wouldn't be half as clever or rewarding as Lucy Ellmann's pages. The cleverest part of all is that the main narrative circles its central themes in a way that mirrors the insert story of the mountain lion. Like the lion, the main narrative makes very wide circles in the first third of the book, so wide we don't see the point of them, but as the book progresses, the circles get smaller and tighter, and the connections clearer, until we arrive at the central point of all that spiraling—and boy is it sweet! Talk about cinnamon rolls…

Thanks for reading this great quantity of review words, those of you who didn't bail out early on as well as those who skipped huge chunks but still reached the end. Perhaps reaching the end is a sign that you too might enjoy Ducks, Newburyport
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews651 followers
August 28, 2019
Now re-read after its longlisting for the Booker Prize (I've re-read all the three books which I rated 5-stars). Re-reading this one was an unusual experience because my wife was reading it at the same time, although she was about 700 pages ahead of me. Well, she was when I started - I had it down to 300 pages when she finished.

I completely understand why some people dislike this book. I also completely understand why some people (me included) love it. It has an internal rhythm to it that either repels or attracts. If you are one of those whom it attracts, there is so much to uncover as you work your way through it.

Sam Jordison, co-director of Galley Beggar Press who published this book, said something in an interview recently that summed it up for me:

“I actually liked the book even more when I read it the second time,” says Jordison. “So if the judges read it again, I’m really hoping they’ll see all kinds of new things in it and realise just how cleverly it’s put together. It’s one of those books where you see more in it every time. It’s such a huge flood of words that the first time you read it, you’re completely overwhelmed, which is a brilliant, lovely feeling. And the next time, you’re like, it’s all been planned out really carefully, which is just amazingly impressive.”

My experience of re-reading was a bit like my recent re-read of Deborah Levy's The Man Who Saw Everything: being able to look forward whilst reading as well as looking backwards makes all the difference. On a first read, you inevitably can only look backwards at what you have already read and cannot anticipate what is coming.

I can't quite put it into words, but the lioness story seemed a lot more integrated to me on a second reading. I noticed comments about the lioness missing her mother, for example. And the final phrase of the book is enough to make you look back and re-evaluate several things.

I went in to my re-read with a rather poor view of Leo and the narrator's father. I have come out the other end convinced that I fell into a trap of having read too many books where husbands who appear to good to be true are and fathers turn out to be abusive. I need to apologise to both men as there is no actual evidence of either of these things.

This is a very funny, very sad book. I enjoyed every page of my re-read and I'm glad I invested the time in going through this again.

heavens to Betsy, boarlets, I don't know but they know,

ORIGINAL REVIEW

I’m not sure I can do this. I’m completely sure that I am not qualified to do this. Lucy Ellmann’s "Ducks, Newburyport" is a big book in every sense of the word. It is long, very long. It is innovative. It takes on big, universal subjects. I’ll tell you a bit about my experience of reading it. I don’t feel worthy to do any more than that.

It opens with a lioness (a mountain lion - important to note or you might get confused when she purrs). She will come back into the story again and again, on a journey that is initially puzzling (how does this fit into the main narrative, what’s it all about?) but soon becomes emotionally engaging and then integral to the overall arc of the story.

But the lioness sections are just one or two pages at a time and infrequent. The bulk of the book is the internal monologue of our narrator, told without full stops in a sort of stream of consciousness that swirls around, often repeating thoughts and ideas, filled with a flow of word associations, sudden memories, ongoing worries, reactions to events, recollections of recent dreams etc., all marked by her trademark phrase "the fact that…"

…, the fact that car crashes are up twenty percent since 2009, haw tree, buckeye, black walnut, hickory, butternut, the fact that Stacy’s old enough to handle the road but the other kids aren’t, the fact that a little boy was killed in his bed just the other day by a skidding car crashing into his house, Ben asleep, the fact that there are two cardinals right now in the lilac tree, brown sugar, …

She earns money by making pies. She worries about her family. She worries about the state of the world. She has no time at all for Donald Trump. She is scared by the gun culture in her country. She worries about the environment. She is deeply affected by the loss of her parents, especially her mother, when she was younger, although she says that at least...

...they never had to know Donald Trump would one day be president, the fact that who would’ve expected that, the fact that I always thought he was just some failed businessman who liked building ugly skyscrapers, and now he gets to rule the world, with a smartphone and that thin pad of hair on his head, grab ’em by the smartphone,…

You might think that reading 1000 pages of someone’s internal thoughts with a continuous repeating verbal tick could get annoying or boring. I am sure there are some people who will find it one or other of those, or both. But I found it more and more engaging, more and more engrossing page by page. It is often very funny: when she writes a list of things we can rely on happening, she includes

Jane Fonda will improve herself and write more and more books explaining how we can all be more and more like her

And she brings joy to my pedantic heart with her concern about grammar, semantics and pronunciation:

…some people will wrongly call octopuses “octopi” and misuse the word “enormity” and mispronounce “February” and “library”

She doesn’t tell you a story. It is up to the reader to piece things together and work out who is who. With some characters (like her children), it is quickly obvious who they are. But with others you have to wait for a few clues until the penny drops. Likewise with her history: it is revealed in a scattered fashion as her thoughts dance over her life events. There are some things (no spoilers here!) that seem very significant but just get a single mention, or maybe a couple of mentions, and things don’t come in chronological order but are included when her random thoughts take her there.

Behind the word play (…was it a cat I saw, able was I ere I saw Elba…), we gradually get to know a very frightened woman. At several points, I was reminded of Samantha Schweblin’s "Fever Dream" and its concept of "rescue distance" (how long it would take to reach your child in an emergency). And there are many, many literary references through the book (which I now wish I had done more to keep track of), some directly referring to other books (often Laura Ingalls Wilder or Anne Tyler, but many others, as well, including Jane Austen) and sometimes, as with my memory of "rescue distance" just making me think of other books I have read and I don’t know whether they are deliberate references or just my own random word associations. So, for example

…the fact that trees seem in a different time zone from us, and they live so much longer than we do, but still, they are our companions,…

put me in mind of Richard Powers’ Pulitzer winning "The Overstory" and

…the fact that the sky is now peach, mauve, sky-blue, gray, blue-gray, shocking pink, orange, yellow and a pale creamy blue, all at the same time,…

brought back memories of a scene from the Booker winning "Milkman" by Anna Burns.

You are on a journey when you read this book. The narrator’s stream of consciousness will suck you in. It will make you laugh, it may well make you cry. It could very possibly make you angry. Some of it references violent events from America’s past (and it is not, on a few pages, very pleasant reading at all). As you read her thoughts, you will read a heartfelt criticism of America’s past and present, one that by implication spreads far wider than just America as it examines human motivations. The human narrator shows us the inhumanity of man. The non-human protagonist in the much shorter parallel narrative shows us the humanity of the natural world.

I would love to talk with others at some point about the pieces of information we all managed to glean and put together to form a picture of our narrator’s life story. I don’t want to put my thoughts here as I think that would spoil it for others.

I’ll stop, although there is still so much to think about. This is, quite simply, a wonderful book. I appreciate that the length and the unusual structure might be off-putting for some, but, based on my reading experience, the length is a joy rather than a chore and the unusual structure only serves to make it more engaging and more satisfying to read. I really hope lots of other people will give it a go.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
296 reviews2,172 followers
November 24, 2019
That's great it starts with an earthquake
Pies and cakes and tardigrades
Sentence breaks are seldom made

Try to nuke a hurricane, watch the Amazon burn
Hell’s an endless news feed, Youtube Morning Routines
‘Suck in your gut’, Spaghetti-Os, hens.
Then Laura Ingalls Wilder with a hoop skirt, upskirt
Concertina wire, cougar cubs, Ohio days
And ‘a success or a failure’ and this mom’s uptight
That’s her, barely coping, all her worries,
Thousand pages, breathing down your neck

Day-by-day reporters baffled, Trump, weather, crops
Look at climate change, fine.
Then: Uh-oh overflow, operation, ‘I don’t know but they know’
Save herself, preserve her self,
World seems just crazee, Stace & Jesus saved me
Oceans full of plastic, the resurgent Right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, fruit pies!
Feeling pretty psyched

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
She’s baking pies

Kakistocracy, how? Mountain lion gets around
Katherine Hepburn, watch a floating house burn
Ducky! Ducky! Mommy pond, broken, broke but cancer gone
Healthcare costs escalate, ‘extrude’, emasculate
Active Shooter, unknown motive, Newcomerstown
What’s their deal, FOOSH, FOOSH, uh oh
This means:
Home fear, logorrhoea, Ronny’s weird so steer clear
Perseverate, perseverate, perseverating mind
What are the solutions, where are the alternatives
‘The fact(s)’ decline…

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's TEOTWAWKI
Anxiety pies

Otherwise, dreams of flying, salted apple pretzel pie
Mountain lions in a line, Rogers! Hammerstein!
Lemon drizzle, ‘what-we’ve-done-to-animals’
Fanouropita cake, pepper pot soup
You symbiotic patriotic slam
Book-er Prize?
Pies.

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
At least there’s pie

It’s time I had some time alone….



(Sincere apologies to R.E.M.)
Profile Image for Meike.
1,594 reviews2,830 followers
November 15, 2019
Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2019 *sigh*
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2019

This book has a hypnotizing effect, as it relentlessly rambles on and on and on in what is NOT a stream-of-consciousness or, God forbid, one sentence. No one in their right mind has a train of thought like this midwestern housewife, the language is more like an artificial, highly associative, playful collage of memories, thoughts, songs, names, and terms, like a psychological implicit-association test that has shape-shifted into a novel. Our protagonist contemplates random everyday tasks and mundane occurrences as well as serious social and political problems like gun culture and Trumpism, and there is also one personally defining event more or less at the end of the text, everything entangled in one massive, 1,345-page block of words. Is this, as the blurb claims, "a scorching indictment of America’s barbarity", "a wonder", and "a revolution in the novel"? Oh hell no (and can the PR people of publishing houses please get a grip, this silly hyperbole is cringe-inducing).

Let me try to put it Ellmann-style: The fact that this book has nothing substantial to say, the fact that this text relies fully on its faux-innovative style, the fact that the associations are often simply screaming "look at me, I'm experimental fiction", for Pete's sake, Pete Buttigieg, St. Petersburg, Putin, Trump, MAGA, Lady Gaga, WTF, the fact that this book loves itself very much, the fact that you feel like riding a dead horse after you got the gist of the whole thing, maybe ride to the Old Town Road, can't nobody tell me nothing: This is not great literaure, you can't tell me nothing (...) fast forward: Dead forests, guns, the end.

"Ducks, Newburyport" feels like a very, very long prank aiming to expose "serious" literature. Full disclosure: I read the first 10 % and the last around 100 pages of the actual text (there's an appendix), and then bailed, because, well, you got to draw the line somewhere. :-) If you want to read a great experimental novel, consider fellow Booker nominee The Man Who Saw Everything, pick up Nicola Barker's new book I Am Sovereign or go for Jesse Ball's masterpiece The Divers' Game: A Novel.

Overall, this year's award circuit for literature written in German was stronger than that for English-language literature, mainly because the judges chose more daring and interesting nominees (with Herkunft winning the German Book Prize, GRM: Brainfuck winning the Swiss Book Prize and Als ich jung war winning the Austrian Book Prize).
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
January 11, 2020
The fact that after the second page it's just one long run-on sentence, sentence first, verdict after, afternoon tea, tea for two, Frère Jacques, row row row your boat merrily down the stream, stream of consciousness, consciousness explained, not, Not was going to read it first but I beat her to it, you can beat an egg, you can beat a donkey, but you can't beat Ducks, Newburyport, the fact that there's a second thread hardly anyone mentions, the fact that it's also quite engaging to read about the life of a mountain lion, liana, Lainey, laine, lin, linen, lines, line between fact and fiction, the fact that's it's written in sentences, the fact that it's nearly as interesting as getting into the mind of the heroine, heroin, horse, H, scag, smack, that's what this book is like, I like pie, the fact that she spends a whole lot of time thinking about caramelization, caramel, Carmel, Carmel chapel, Mount Carmel, ♫ Carmelita, hold me tightly ♫, well why shouldn't she, it's her job, the fact that people spend a lot of time thinking about their jobs, what's your problem, big problem, no problem, Houston, we've had a problem, Apollo 13, I think she'll get it down safely, could be our finest hour, the fact that she keeps thinking about abusive relationships and Donald Trump, trump that, no trump, NT, 4 NT, Blackwood, into the black woods, draw trumps, last trump, Armageddon, Antichrist, end of the world, the fact that most of Trump's policies are apparently designed to bring the end of the world closer, of course it could be a coincidence, I try to see the good in everyone, the fact that sometimes that's hard, the fact that usually I don't like this kind of novel but Lucy Ellmann is terrific, Rrrreally great!, the fact that male authors doing female stream of consciousness keep making them think about their breasts, Arianne et ses snies in Belle de Seigneur and Molly Bloom let's not even go there, but this lady is more about pie and her kids and the poisoning of the planet, the fact that that's more interesting than tits, the fact that it's very repetitious but that's part of the charm, three times is the charm, charm quark, quantum chromodynamics, QCD, red blue green, the fact that this is what it must be like to be a telepath, you look inside people's minds and you see they're broken, broken, all these terrible thoughts that keep squirreling around, squirrl, The Demolished Man, Dying Inside, you don't know but they know, the fact that it's like a miracle, every work of art is a miracle, Karl Ove Knausgård, KOK, kuk, fitta, arsle, what's got into me today, the fact that I'm reading it when it's just come out so I get all the references, no need for footnotes, immediate connection, front row seat, 2020 vision, don't wait around folks, eat it while it's hot, selling like hot cakes, well it should anyway, Man Booker, system is rigged, the fact that it's surprisingly like Die Wand which is the last novel I read, the anonymous female narrator soliloquizing to herself, okay on paper there and mentally here but who cares, the fact that it's kind of the same material, philosophical speculations and appalled reflections on male violence but mostly the day to day struggle to survive, not much sex, well that's pretty interesting if you're male, the fact that it's almost finished, the fact that it turns out to have a plot, graph plot, lost the plot, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, gunpowder treason and plot, the plot against America, the fact that there's all this foreshadowing, the land of shadows, Mordor, the red eye, the Enemy, how can it end well, well I never, well well well, three holes in the ground, the fact that the ending will still surprise you, the fact that you should read it now, what are you waiting for.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
August 21, 2020
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2019
Deserved Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2019 and the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction 2020

This is a brave, unique and ambitious book, so full credit to Galley Beggar press for stepping in where Lucy Ellmann's previous publishers baulked, and giving it such wholehearted support. Having spent a week reading it intensely, I feel that this is a book that entirely justifies their faith in it.

The core of the book is an interior monologue, written as a single run-on sentence that is unbroken throughout most of the 988 pages, logging several months in the life of its narrator, an unnamed housewife, formerly of Connecticut and Illinois, now living in Newcomerstown, Tuscarawas, Ohio, with her husband Leo, a saint, scientist and expert on bridges, a daughter Stacy from a previous marriage, and their three younger children Ben, Gillian and Jake, the fact that the narrator's parents both died young, her mother was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and almost drowned there as a small child trying to chase ducks, the fact that the narrator barely breaks even spending her days making pies and cakes to sell, and keeping chickens, and she is obsessed with the state of America, gun violence, the destruction of the environment and Ohio's history, not least the more brutal aspects of it.

The main narrative is interrupted at irregular intervals with the story of a cougar lioness whose travels crisscross Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, and her three newborn cubs. These are written in normal, even sometimes short sentences, but for me this does not stop the rest of the book being at least arguably an unbroken sentence, because these parts are more like inserted pictures, and are not preceded by full stops or followed by capital letters. This story does eventually start to touch on the events of the main monologue. In an attempt to work out what percentage of the story these comprise, I made a list of their page numbers: pages 11-12 (before the start of the main monologue), 91-93, 113-4, 241-2, 307-8, 370-1, 406-7, 439-40, 471-3, 495-7, 516-7, 570-2, 591, 630-1, 672-3, 730-1, 742-3, 786-7, 828-30, 872-3, 885-7, 912-3, 925-7, 937-9, 949, 957-9.

There are four other places where some white space occurs: p168 - a list of slogans that appear on a school neon sign, p199 a "let them eat cake" flyer for the business, p454-6 a list of freezer contents, "... some things are definite, like" followed by an almost poetic list that runs from p645-672

At first the book, and particularly the monologue, seems infuriatingly relentless, plotless and random, but hints of more momentous events start to appear after a while, gradually accumulate, and by the end, and especially in the last 50 pages a complex, dramatic and moving story has emerged, and the place of the lioness in the story is clarified, and the narrative technique also gains power as the reader gets used to its quirks. Much of it is topical, and it is often very funny.

The story ends at page 998, after which there is an eclectic and oddly charming 25 page list of the many abbreviations in the book, some of which are serious and others changed for comic effect (for example MAGA becomes Make America Gyrate Again), followed by a couple of pages of apposite quotes.

There are many words, phrases and topics that crop up repeatedly, for example: The fact that (there must be several thousand of these), Amish (and Witness, one of many extended film references), bananas that are radioactive, bears, boarlets, crazee, Cy Young, dceaglecam, derecho, De Smet, Ducky Ducky, galoshes (and the history of galoshes in the movies), goiters, hydrangea, Laura Ingalls Wilder (and Little House, and Almanzo), macrophage, nanoparticles, nurdles (Jake's favourite playthings), (earworm song)Mele Kalikimaka, pepperpot soup (Leo's favourite), poffertjes, quotes from Jabberwocky, rose madder, Silent Spring, sit-me-down-upon, me-oh-mys and other euphemisms, stink bugs, styptic stick, Swiffer, tardigrade, tartes tatin, turtles stuck in plastic beercan rings, wolf eels.

Here are a few quotes that amused me:

"... the fact that it is kind of unlikely that there is just one Abominable Snowman, given the way biology usually works, and reproduction and all, the fact that after all there seem to be some Abominable Snowmen in Tibet too, the fact that if it's all one guy, he must be a real jetsetter, Abominable Jetsetter, Abominable love miles, rushing across the globe to visit his Abominable Snowwoman and Abominable Snowchildren, Abominable Snowpeople, Snowmom, the fact that nobody ever seems to see an Abominable Snowmom nursing an Abominable Snowbaby, the fact that I wonder if a litter of Abominable Snowchildren would be welcomed into our abominable school system..."

"... the fact that Trump is like King Lear with all his tantrums, the fact that he even has a favourite daughter, the fact that people are lining up to play the Fool, Sparkle Plenty doll, Swanson TV dinners, the fact that at least King Lear could form a sentence, the fact that soon we won't remember what it's like to have a president that can do that, the fact that it's lucky King Lear wasn't in charge of any nuclear codes, Blow winds..."

"... the fact that I just realized that when this monologue in my head stops, I'll be dead, or at least totally unconscious, like a vegetable or something, the fact that there are seven and a half billion people in the world, so there must be seven and a half billion of these internal monologues going on, apart from all the unconscious people, that's seven and a half billion people worrying about their kids, or their moms, or both, as well as taxes and window sills and medical bills..."

"... the fact that I'll never know why she wrote that NAZI POTUS slogan on her shirt and wore it to school the very day they were taking the class photo, with Stacy right there in the front row, the fact that she says she didn't know they were taking the photo that day but she would have worn it anyway, if she had, the fact that she was all excited about it being in the photo, but then when we got the finished photo, they'd blanked the photo out, so her T-shirt no longer said SUPER CALLOUS FRAGILE RACIST SEXIST NAZI POTUS, it didn't say anything, for once, the fact that it just looked like she had a plain black T-shirt on..."

"... the fact that it's just like the way they get about immigrants, the fact that maybe they've confused the lion with an undocumented alien, a non-native incomer that entered Ohio illegally, newcomer, Newcomerstown, Cheechako, Dreamer, a Mexican puma, the fact that Newcomerstown was once called Neighbourtown, so I am really out of place here, since I am not a good neighbour..."

Overall, this is the kind of book that thoroughly deserved its recognition by the Booker prize, and it has to be a strong contender for both the Goldsmiths Prize and the Republic of Consciousness Prize too. Not an easy read, but an extraordinary achievement that rewards persistence.

Update 3 Sep - I am delighted to see this wonderful book on the Booker shortlist.

Update 13 Aug - three weeks after finishing it, this is still my favourite book of the year so far, so much of it still feels fresh in the memory.

I am probably not the most impartial judge, but these reviews demonstrate that I am not alone in enjoying it:
Marchpane, Gumble's Yard, Neil, Jonathan, Ella, Robert, Kristian, Alan, Iris, MJ Nicholls, Lee

and a couple of negative ones for balance:
Meike, Paul
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,826 reviews1,389 followers
January 9, 2023
the fact this won the 2019 Goldsmith prize, Golden Syrup, Golden Retriever

the fact that this is shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, shortlist, shortbread

the fact that this is longlisted for the 2019 booker prize, longlisted, longleat, lions of longleat, mountain lion

the fact that madeleines are like little memory sticks, but when you bite into one you get closure, the fact that all her life that mountain lion has been alone and free and unnamed, and now she has a name and she’s not free anymore, and that’s sort of spooky, or is it just the thought of the way she lived before, so alone and hidden from the world, that spooks me, the fact that I’m pretty alone and hidden from the world myself a lot of the time, but not the way a mountain lion, the fact that I think it’d be great if the right to bear arms thing turned out to be about wearing short sleeves, the right to bare arms, or else maybe they meant heraldry, like the right to a family crest, the fact that you get to have a pennant with a lion rampant or dormant on it, armorial, armed conflict, Ben’s book on heraldry, dormant, torpor, the fact that it would be really nice to see all these gun nuts just settle down and design their own coat of arms and get some plaques made, the fact that maybe they could have their own tartan too, get a whole Scottish thing going, a family clan, kilts, swordies, the fact that I wouldn’t even mind bagpipes if they’d just quit talking about the 2A for a while, and stopped killing people too


the fact that I started reading Ducks, Newburyport in Gander, Newfoundland, the fact that I came home and my daughter was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, the fact that Mr Darcy, Darcey, the fact that BTP, MTBE, CTE, KRW, AES are all things I discussed while reading the book which featured in the book, the fact that Mary Ellman wrote the seminal Thinking About Women and this book will become the seminal A Woman Thinking, the fact that this book is in the tradition of Joyce and Proust but with a fierce anger purely of its own, the fact that Edna O’Brien said she had yet to meet anyone who has read and digested the whole of Finnegan’s Wake except Richard Ellmann, the fact that unlike Proust Lucy Ellman’s narrator bakes as well as eats madeleines, the fact that I finished the book and my daughter bought a madeleine back from her school trip to France, the fact that Open Carry, Daily Carry, the ability to carry off a 1000 page sentence, the fact that baking and shooting in the kitchen, Galley Kitchens, Galley Beggar, the gall to publish such a rule-breaking fiercely-blazing book, the fact is Galley Beggar, beggars, beg/borrow/steal but best of all buy a copy, the fact that Jane Austen, Persuasion, I hope I have persuaded you to read the book, the fact that the Lucy Ellman does so much better a job

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews626 followers
January 27, 2022
The fact that I came to the end…..is……(no words to describe it)…..
off to sleep
Review soon

I’m back…..

Audiobook….read by Stephanie Ellyne
…..45 hours and 34 minutes
WINNER of the Goldsmith Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize - both in 2019.

WOW!!!! …..
I’m sure it’s been said before….”This book wouldn’t be everyone’s cuppa tea”…..
but I swear I must have been preconditioned for this ‘stream-of consciousness’ *event*….
The more I listened to the audiobook- putty in the hands of Stephanie Ellyne’s coaching….(a masterful audiobook reader is like an exercise coach is to the athlete)… my increased levels of endorphins were naturally boosting my mood. My mind came along for the ride. I adored the intimacy!
I also recognized increased feelings of well-being and calmness— aka like the runner’s high.

Am I glad I’m done? Sure…..(oh, but I LIKED IT!)….
Something happens when engaging with this lengthy ‘novel’ (yes, it’s a novel)….there’s an euphoric-pride thing going on too —
— feeling like just having finished a marathon - 26.219 miles.
I’m no longer a runner …..but for 25+ years…..I was a dedicated marathon runner….(I figured 25 years of serious long distance running was finally enough). I didn’t stop all at once of course — there were the injuries, the set backs, the returns…etc.
And the….”the no way yoga was going to ever give me the same high and be nearly as rigorous as running was —-
But the fact is….yoga soon became the next addiction.
I often took three classes a day -
So….FACT IS….I had been previously wired — to endure the length of this ‘experience’…….
muscle memory returns that way. Some of us have the ability to ‘go-the-distance’ without conscious thought when called upon—when an autopilot-type commitment attracts our nervous system….
So….
FACT is….I hadn’t loss my muscle memory …..
FACT is…..it came in handy with “Ducks, Newburyport”.
FACT is….I was a good fit- candidate for spending 45+ hours with Lucy Ellmann’s brilliant mind and voice narrator Stephanie Ellyne’s brilliant voice.

Fact is ….. auto pilot auto listening has a type of ‘life-of-its-own’ adventure— under-going’s, wisdom, encounters, experiential life: thoughts, feelings, opinions, observations….about….EVERY TOPIC UNDER THE SUN. Who knew sugar gets onion smell out of your hands?

“THE FACT THAT”….this book repeats “the fact that”….more times than I can count them —-(but has any tried? — does anyone know the number of times “the fact that” expression was repeated?)…
The fact that….“Ducks, Newburyport” was the longest sentence I’ve ever experienced…..it sure was a damn good phenomenal one at that!

The novel’s main character(I’ll call her SHE), is an unnamed middle-aged woman who lives in Newcomerstown, Ohio. No longer a history professor— rather SHE is a wife, mother, and pie-baking empress.
Leo is her husband. They have 4 kids.

SHE, (a cancer survivor), is a self-reflecting, heart-searching type of woman. She tells us she is shy— and would die if she ever had to participate in public speaking. While baking pies she stews over — ponders and reflects about her family, her, children, husband, neighbors, nature, (hummingbirds), words (hydrangeas), politics…. Polar bears, icebergs, the dangers of Krispy Kreme’s, dirty dishes, cleaning toilets….. etc.etc…
…devoting every inch of her life to her family: lunchboxes, shampooing, hair brushing, lost items, baking, mending, sewing, making costumes, shopping, cooking, and and her spare time making 1 million pies….
shopping, chopping……slicing, spilling, cooling, heating, boiling, boiling frying….
AND THAT’S not all….(like I said, every topic under the sun is included:
mountain lioness, politics, movies, puzzles, galoshes, climate change, global environmental crisis…etc.).
As a dedicated listener— my thoughts became like celebrated jumping frogs—[frogs are worshiped in East/Asian counties]….I found that listening to what Lucy Ellmann wrote became a type of magical and spiritual good omen.

I loved it. It will stay with me forever….
“Ducks, Newburyport”, is so much of an experience- (alluringly seductive power, emotions, thoughts, empathy, love, laughter, sadness, fears, awareness…..it was all there for me)…..
but like some people know they would never consider running a marathon— there are some readers who won’t want to read ‘or’ listen to the end of the finish line.

A few “The Fact That’s…..

….”The fact that kids used to have chores, then they had allowances, and now they have devices”.

….”The fact that Meryl Streep really should have worked it out with Alec Baldwin. It was never going to have worked out with Steve Martin”.

….”The fact that I don’t want to wear skin tight jeans all day long”.

….”The fact that some people have more of a fondness for the past can I do”.

….”The fact that my reason for success is because of raisins….. because Leo hate raisins and I hate raisins”.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,309 followers
November 13, 2019
The book responsible for my most annoying reading experience of 2019 wins my favourite prize ...

I have a lot of respect for Galley Beggar, and admire them for having the courage to publish such an ambitious novel. My review is going to be a little unfair, but there are plenty of reviews here that present only the positive sides of this novel, and I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this in the slightest.

It’s tempting, as many have, to review in the (too easily?) imitated style of the book but having waded through 19,396 , the fact that’s, I’d rather not add more. So instead a recipe:

How to bake a Ducks, Newburyport pie cake

Take an ordinary piece of text:

. We had a poor old erratic mouse in the kitchen once, that wasn’t acting normal. The poor thing kept going in circles. Maybe the cats had brought him in and played with him and injured him, or maybe he was just a little crazee, and came in all by himself. He didn’t act like Edward. Edward always behaved very sensibly. Edward was brave. An adult mouse can have a friendship with a human child. Maybe he was cold and hungry, or thirsty, the crazy mouse, not Edward, and we should have given him some refreshments. Really he acted like he needed to go to a mouse nursing home, or a mouse senior day care center. We were going to try to catch him but he disappeared and I don’t know what happened to him. The cats probably gobbled him up in the night. I don’t think he was the same wild mouse we had last summer.

Search and replace all “.”’s with “, the fact that”, and capitalise the letter immediately after:

the fact that, we had a poor old erratic mouse in the kitchen once, that wasn’t acting normal, the fact that the poor thing kept going in circles, the fact that maybe the cats had brought him in and played with him and injured him, or maybe he was just a little crazee, and came in all by himself, the fact that he didn’t act like Edward, the fact that Edward always behaved very sensibly, the fact that Edward was brave, and smart, the fact that an adult mouse can have a friendship with a human child, the fact that maybe he was cold and hungry, or thirsty, the crazy mouse, not Edward, and we should have given him some refreshments, the fact that really he acted like he needed to go to a mouse nursing home, or a mouse senior day care center, the fact that we were going to try to catch him but he disappeared and I don’t know what happened to him, the fact that the cats probably gobbled him up in the night, the fact that I don’t think he was the same wild mouse we had last summer, the fact that

voila, “experimental” prose (look, no full stops) and an upped word count in one simple operation. [A real example plucked at random from the many pages of Ducks, Newburyport].

Then season liberally with word riffs, use of a thesaurus and long lists:

the fact that all in all we’re really just a normal Joy, Pledge, Crest, Tide, Dove, Woolite, Palmolive, Clorox, Rolaids, Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, Desitin, Advil, Aleve, Tylenol, Anacin, Bayer, Excedrin, Vitamin C, Kleenex, Kotex, Tampax, Altoid, Barbazol, Almay, Revlon, Cetaphil, Right Guard, Old Spice, Gillette, Q-Tip, Johnson & Johnson, Vaseline, Listerine, Head ’n’ Shoulders, Safe Owl, Eagle Brand, Jolly Green Giant, Land O’Lakes, Lucerne, Sealtest, Clover, Blue Bonnet, Half & Half, Snyder, VanCamp, Wish-Bone, French’s, Skyline, Empress, Gerber, Nabisco, Heinz, Kraft, Quaker Oats, Sunkist, Purina, Vlasic, Oreo, Shredded Wheat, Arm & Hammer, Jell-O, Pez, Sara Lee, Chock Full o’ Nuts, Libby’s, Pepperidge Farm, Fleischmann’s, Morton, General Mills, King Arthur, Bell’s, Reese’s Pieces kind of household like everybody else, “Houston, we got a problem,” even with all these macrophages and tardigrades sneaking around, whatever they are,

(“like everybody else”?)

Make use of the commas as part of the full stop replacement device, to create humorous ambiguity:

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, the fact that

you will need to use this particular ingredient at least 75 times in a full-sized cake.

Add the tiniest pinch of plot but use this for more contrived world play. E.g. have your character get a flat tyre on a snowy day on the way back from the dentist, and be rescued by a character called Jesus. Her amusement that there are people called Jesus can then be used to make a Jesus saved me joke that you can re-use 15 or so times.

Sprinkle in acronyms to taste, add (over-)generous dollops of film plots and lashings of Little House on The Prairie syrup.

Put in the oven for many long hours, and then remove the full-stop replacement cake from the oven and and cover with a frosting of sour dream sequences.

Break-up any monotony with interspersed layers of a more conventional pie baked from the story of a mountain lion (albeit narrated from the lion’s perspective), taking care to hide in one layer, like the sixpence in a Christmas pudding, a scene to be discovered by the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award (new animal sub-division).

And, having spent 1000 pages largely going nowhere (well to the mall and to the dentist and back), add an anachronistic topping of a dramatic ending.

-------------

On my first attempt at this book - read on publication - I abandoned it and struggled to justify a star. See below for my original review in spoilers. The Booker longlisting and a 12 hour flight gave me the opportunity to revisit and finish it.

It improved a little on a re-read – the more personal sequences of the narrator’s past were powerful and built up over the book’s length, and I was left with an uneasy feeling that her husband was not the saint that she convinced herself he was (as another GR friend Neil joked, you need to read between the Lions). And, when not employed to excess, even the repetition works well.

The biggest problem I had wasn’t its length per se (the 426,100 words) - I have read and very much enjoyed several significantly longer books - it’s the fact that it feels at times like length is conflated with quality. For example, the publishers pre-release campaign largely consistent of photos of the brick-like time measured up against other books.

The quite literally pointless “, the fact that” device occurs, as mentioned, 19,396 times in the book. That’s 58,188 words, which enough for many writers to write a whole novel. If they make an audio version, then given the three words would take a second to say, the unlucky narrator will actually spend over 5 hours simply repeating ... and repeating and repeating ... “, the fact that”

The indictment of certain aspects of US culture is strong and timely. I boarded the plane where I read the bulk of this book to breaking news of one mass shooting, and landed to news of another, the second in Ohio and close to where the book is set. But as a European I found it rather reinforced my pre-existing biases. It would be more challenging to read a book with characters presenting the opposite views (to be fair Ali Smith's seasonal quartet has the same issue in UK politics). And, if anything, the political analysis rather resorts to Trumpesque name calling, the narrators’ favourite Mary Poppins-based example inspired by the Sun, but fortunately able to be sourced to the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/media/200...). An example, which captures much of the strengths and weaknesses of the book:

, the fact that I think he’s a big bully, coward, mean guy, third rate, just like Trump, “Sad!”, the fact that he could be a lot of places by now, this shooter, not Trump, though Trump gets around too, golfing and holding rallies, the fact that they can’t get him to stop holding rallies, the fact that he goes for the adulation, bigly, ululation, elation, election, erection, cracks, failed bridge, broken, flaccid, the fact that he could be right outside our house right now, the selfie killer, not Donald Trump, I hope, the fact that maybe the selfie killer, Trump, and the lion are outside our house, help, the fact that I don’t know which would be worse, the fact that

Upping my rating to 1.5 stars rounded to 2.

But I can’t help but feel that if the movie sequences and Little House parts were drastically pared back, the dreams ditched, the lists and gratuitous repetition reduced, ‘, the fact that’ used only to mark a genuine shift in thoughts rather than every time a full stop is needed, and the Hollywood ending removed, this would have been a more fulfilling and much shorter book.

But then it likely wouldn’t have got nominated for prizes – and again all praise to the author and to the publisher for the courage to go with the unadultered version.


Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,468 reviews3,642 followers
September 4, 2019
A sad satirical novel Ducks, Newburyport is built on contrasts: Lucy Ellmann compares and opposes the life of a harassed housewife – a product of modern civilization – to the life of a lioness – an innocent product of nature…
Alertness was her new mode, but the cubs’ easy slumber was contagious. She was always briefly astounded, on waking, by their continued presence. They troubled her, they were so needy: if she died, they would die too, and soon. And she would forget them. But for now, she belonged to them. They were not so much a conscious concern as the whole purpose of her being – lives engendered by her body, created inside her and released through pain and panting upon the world. She had borne them, and now she fed them with her milk. They were part of her still.

The narration is a housewife’s inner monologue in the style of The Loser or Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard … Her soliloquy consists of uncontrolled comments on all her life and anything else that occurs to her…
…the fact that it would make my day if Stacy would just put her clothes in the hamper once in a while, in that lion’s den of a bedroom of hers, the fact that she hates me going in there, but sometimes I have to, the fact that pigs are cleaner than people any day, boarlets, the fact that hogs make their own beds, though I’m not sure if they do it every morning, the fact that they’re cleaner and smarter than anybody realizes, and don’t deserve to be made into bacon, but everybody likes bacon so much, so it’s a conundrum, it surely is…

In the age of informational pollution, the heroine’s head is fraught with all sorts of trash but she possesses an academic vocabulary… She is not too intelligent and naïve so she occupies herself by contemplating cultural clichés, popular movies, shreds of songs and television shows while culinary recipes and food are her special concern…
Although she mentions many books, aesthetically she’s no higher than Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder which she admires and simultaneously ridicules its inanity and so it is with movies and all the rest.
But whatever heroine thinks about, her thoughts are full of phobias, fixations and pathological anxiety…
…what a terrible terrible terrible thing, the fact that it broke us, as a nation, but you’re not supposed to say so, the fact that why would you do a thing like that to other people, I will do such things, – what they are, yet I know not; but they shall be the terror of the earth, the fact that being “upbeat” is so different from being “beat-up,” the fact that the two things don’t go together at all, the fact that people probably get beat up for being upbeat, or downbeat, the fact that either sounds unfair…

Be merry and happy… Consume trash goods, consume trash food, consume trash culture, consume trash information, consume propaganda – be an ideal consumer and bring up new consumers to relay you in due time…
…apple turnovers, the fact that some people don’t like introverts, the fact that everybody’s got to be an extrovert these days or they think you’re a psycho or something, compost, decomposing, the fact that a madeleine has so much butter in it it’s really like a tiny pound cake…

Society is sick… But all the societies are sick one way or the other all over the world all the time…
Profile Image for Infinite Jen.
87 reviews430 followers
September 25, 2023
The fact that I still can't make up my mind about this book, whether its even worthy of the appellation experimental or whether some cozening cooze-hound is cozying-up to the anachronistic, loquacious, tin-eared colony of escharotic lit-bro flesh which carpets the interior chambers of my heart like myocytes with questionable pacemaker activity which has led to multiple, transient ischemic accidents and Frank Zappa having pellets of radium stuffed up his nose for sinus trouble, and but so the fact that this maybe/probably/perhaps/possibly/presumably/apparently causes whatever heuristics I commonly deploy to enjoin/prescribe/instruct my most personal of persons to evaluate a bookie to disproportionately weight weight (ie. mass) and the novel novel (ie. a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity) in a fashion which assumes these quantities to be a linear sort of good, the fact that if I see a large book that is constructed in some agonizing way I want to rut with it and - most likely - will inflate the joys of my experience in order to mask a misery which is obvious to anyone not affiliated with the MFAia who cracks these sumbitches open and gives a cursory rut to any given page means that I find myself suss, the fact that it's trivially easy to use the Shannon–Hartley theorem to determine the maximum rate at which information can be transmitted over a communications channel of a specified bandwidth in the presence of noise, the fact that it is a different beast altogether to attempt to subject a text to anything resembling this, the fact that information might not even be the primary point further compounding this mathematical intractability, the fact that you're just a collection of priors and fantastic confabulations embedded in a metaphysical substrate of hydrogenated snack cakes means you are also indelibly SUSSED TF, the fact that you may balk when someone dares remonstrate in the general direction of your evaluative bona fides has no bearing - whatever - on the essential fact that your axiomagnified dilemma is the conflict between the subjective centrality of your own life in tension with your awareness of its objective insignificance and why this could represent a possibly untenable hardship when attempting to defend any privledged position in matters of taste so you're all de minimis non curat in spite of the fact that it will not fix you pudendal neuralgia or bestow means of artistic arbitration which brooks no quarrel with differently calibrated sensitivites, the fact that I’m writing a review for this book means you should give it a go, even if its just the tip, and maybe up to a knuckular dimension of your paper football’s primary punting digit if you’re like intrepidly going, because I don’t take time to review books I don’t think have enough merit to warrant packing high grade verbal explosives in Goodread’s anus and like explodifying the whole thing using myself as the fuse for liberating the screeching incomprehensibility compactified therein, the fact that I’m stuffing the gatekeeper of the rectum without recourse to the normal like sentence terminuses is because the book uses ‘that fact that’ to denote the partitions between memetic devices signified, typically, by periods, and the facts, being what they are, lead one to, in fact, emulate the style with their own factually digressive facsimile of the work in question, the questions that concern us on a societal level are primarily motivated by collectivist vs. individualist sentiments, sediments, speech impediments, the fact that rosary beads of medieval flagellants were sometimes powerful phytotoxins of either a scarlet or lustrous brown in the shape of Lima beans (respectively derived from castor and jequirity beans), As I Lay Typing, lip biting, infighting, because, the fact is, there isn’t an original bone in my body, I suppose that on an atomic level this must be true, but, the fact is it’s veridical in the creative sense as well, the fact that I’ve been destroyed and recreated untold numbers of times doesn’t really concern me all that much, the fact that I’ve been seduced by the words apoptosis and apotheosis is, somehow, I’m convinced, tangentially related, the fact that I think of it so very little is strange, the fact that I think about Harry Houdini’s exploded appendix, and Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead using the escape artist’s abdominal wall as a trampoline for fists, more than I think about the continuity of my conscious experience being unperturbed by this unsettling insight, is, perhaps, suggestive of certain universal features of our creaturely computations, copulations, Francis Ford Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bramstoker’s Dracula’s Macular Hole, the fact that I don’t dwell on it means I get to dwell on this odd medicinal smell that keeps shin kicking my chemoreceptionating processes with unknown odorants, the fact that it’s really chafing my labia, not being able to like localize this odious olfactory diddler, for the life of me, not being able to zero in on this decomposing-pill aroma, arithmetic, mimetic polyalloy, the fact that I walked into the living room snuffling like some animal that didn’t give up cognitive real-estate for enhanced ocular navigation, but instead still found the locus of its experiential being in the cornucopia of rich and repugnant scents that forms its like Umwelt, the fact that I even went so far as to sniff the meatloaf Dani was puncturing with the tines of a stainless steel pitchfork, the fact that she continued processing the meat substance with like mandibular nonchalance while I held the tide of my hair back and leaned in as if to head butt the patina of ketchup glistening atop the pulped animal-matter, looking at me with mild concern, but not registering any like strong objection vibes, while I hovered over the plate and palpitated the dark portals of my schnoz to the rapid intake of hot loaf-particulates, hoping to capture the offending odor in my receptacles, testicles, Tendriculos eats the paladin in the basement if he fails his saving throw, the fact that I said, that’s not it, and walked away without any explanation, the fact that no one called out and asked what I was doing is suggestive of routine violations of norms, the Norns array themselves ‘round the Well of Fate they’re incredibly hot Jotun which always revs my engine, the fact that I strike you mercilessly in the gents', dear reader, a precise blow that forms a perfect onomatopoeic representation of itself in the molecules of air between the instep of my dirty snearker and your quivering willy bits, imagine them forever carrying that tiny oscillation forward, how the barometrics expand and expand until they imprint the world with exquisite pain, it feels like the sound and the sensation are stitched into a crisp white sheet, and this moment is a vivid red marble resting in the middle, gently shaping the canvas into a funnel, deforming everything around us with the weight of our shared experience, with you and me like a single drop of water hanging onto the snout by surface cohesion, by one yours truly inside this compound, fractures, frakking, shagging Cylons, frotting, the fact that I haven’t addressed the merits of this book is disturbing, the fact that I’ve like, seriously, sniffed every stick of furniture in this place as if I were doing a continuous line of coke stretching across the entire apartment, the fact that I had my head down in a vent and listened to my words warbling through the ductwork like a drunk ferret spiraling down and down, that’s not it, that’s not it, that’s not it, the fact that this book is about an Ohio housewife dickying with her pie, should not, I repeat, must not, dissuade you from fornicating with this big rectilinear, rectum, reify, mummify the epigastrium, tactical spiritual orgasms in service of the Bonobo Brigade, block of humor, sadness, monologued mundanity, monozygotic, gnostic, plus or minus ag, Spiro Agnew, anal antagonism, pulmonary embolism, chicanery through symbolism, or syllogism, embedded with the shrapnel of harsh indictment, interspersed with tales of big kitties, what could be sexier than dickying pie, all stitching, bitching about the lack of science based breakfast cereal consisting of the standard model made marshmallow, together larger themes that emerge like a trapdoor spider hiding in your commode that zings forth like a shrill horror movie note to throttle you where the pee comes out, the fact that I’m in the medicine cabinet smelling each bottle, that’s not it, festooning myself with everyone’s clothes until I’ve gone from quirky to sartorially abominable, ravaging their interiors with the solicitous reverse-breaths of my like phylogenetic facial perforations, the fact that this whole laundry debacle might appear to some as if I were like compactionating their nether garments into my nose warrens in an act of prosecutable venery, the fact that this wouldn’t be out of character, the fact that I’m stolid and like sangfroidgenated in the face of that kind of scrutiny might cause certain of us to like set up a defensive type situation around their panty type fabrics, the fact that I’m under beds nasally ingesting dust bunnies and muttering that’s not it, nope, that’s not it, pulling out drawers and getting like aromatically intimate with the contents, ebulliently ingesting particulates with boundless Panglossian type snuffelation, the fact that I’m insouciant when told I’m still wearing the fake mustache from last night, which, through repeated encounters with the lip vodka bottle, has like fermentated, that’s not it.
Profile Image for But_i_thought_.
186 reviews1,537 followers
January 13, 2021
Take banal reflections on everyday life, add in free-association word lists, throw in plot points on children’s books and vintage movies, fret about the state of the environment, insert viral news headlines, insert diner lingo, bemoan the state of US gun laws, insert anxieties about motherhood, enclose a few cleaning tips, throw in memories of bizarre dream sequences – rinse, repeat! There, you have it. The algorithm to Ducks, Newsburyport.

The majority of this novel consists of the tireless inner monologue of a middle-aged Ohio housewife. She is a chicken farmer, self-employed caterer and mother of four. She bakes pies, while watching vintage movies and ruminating about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Walter Matthau, Jane Austen, Meryl Streep, and Harrison Ford. She also obsesses about the failings of Trump, climate change, US gun culture, the extinction of animals, chemicals in the environment, the state of drinking water, school shootings, the impending nuclear holocaust and the end of the world as we know it. In many ways, the book aims to capture the “burdens of survival”, and the crippling terror of “what might happen”.

Much has been made of the book’s structure (primarily one long, compound sentence, punctuated by the phrase, “the fact that”) and length (more than 1,000 pages). The publisher describes it as “Moby Dick in the kitchen”. The Financial Times equates it to “Mrs Dalloway for the internet age”. Cosmopolitan magazine even went so far as to state, “Ulysses has nothing on this”.

Though I am usually a fan of challenging, experimental fiction (having adored other one-sentence novels like Zone and Solar Bones), I found this particular read tedious and mind-numbing to the extreme – perhaps the most tedious book I have consumed, ever.

Here a breakdown of my main issues with the book:

The content: To me, the book seems to capitalize on the “slot-machine effect”. The majority of the text is so mind-numbing, so painfully monotonous, that it puts you into a state of trance – it empties your mind of thought and suspends you in a state of sensory deprivation– so that you experience an endorphin rush of sorts when you occasionally stumble upon a nugget of insight or a shred of plot. It is this strategically irregular and unpredictable reward schedule keeps you ‘hooked’, waiting for the next ‘fix’. Towards the end of the book – oh, rapture! – you are even granted a slice of action.

To be fair, the book does eventually offer up a convincing portrait of mental illness and all-consuming anxiety. However, to get to the novel’s emotional core, the reader has to trudge through reams and reams of mindless chatter – laborious lists and exasperating tautology – that the pay-off hardly seems worth it (at least for me). Passages like the following dominate. They bored me to tears:

“the fact that I don’t think green and purple go very well together at the best of times, the fact that purple almost never looks good on anything, […]. The fact that orange and pink together is better than people think, but orange does not go with purple, or maybe it does, the fact that I don’t like purple and yellow, but it depends what kind of purple or yellow…”

The length: Is the length of the novel justified? I, for one, have doubts. On page 428, the narrator bemoans that fact that the people who consume her pies are not particularly “refined” and thus not worthy of her baking:

“the fact that it's awful, I know, but the phrase "pearls before swine" sometimes does come to mind when I'm baking and delivering my stuff, […], the fact that I just don't know if everybody appreciates what goes into making a good tartes tatin, or even a cinnamon roll, the fact that I do kind of doubt it, [...] the fact that I've seen people swallow my cinnamon rolls in one bite, the fact that it's their way of showing appreciation, I guess, but it's no way to savor the flavors, the finesse, gulp..."

To me, the passage reads like a metaphor for the author’s literary exertions. The length of the novel thus becomes a convenient barrier, a means of excluding the unqualified reader from consuming her work. It also immunizes the novel against critique – very few dissenters will have the patience and perseverance to consume the novel in its entirety (as I unfortunately did).

The prose: The fact that there is nothing particularly lyrical or beautiful about the writing in this book, watermelon cuttings, potato peels, hush puppies, the fact that I found it dull, formulaic and repetitive, down to the re-occurrence of exact lines, equator, equation, equanimity, the fact that this is meant to mirror the circularity of thought, be kind, rewind, but reads instead like something highly artificial and constructed, Fox News, snow foxes, boxes, the fact that I, for one, remain unconvinced that sane individuals have thought patterns that run like this…

The political commentary: While the book touches on Trumpism, the state of the kakistocracy, climate change and gun laws, it does so in a very superficial, almost flippant manner. Every now and then, we get a news headline from late 2017 or early 2018 – briefly cited and quickly abandoned, Twitter style – but we get no meaningful analysis or digestion.

The word “Trump” occurs more than a hundred times throughout the text, but in casual 30-word snippets like the following:

“…the fact that Trump is always assessing women and commenting on them like he’s some great expert on beauty…"

“…the fact that Trump likes steak, the fact that we’d all be better off if he ate less of it..."

“…the fact that apparently Trump can’t golf well at all, the fact that you’d think he would’ve rigged his golf courses by now to help him win…”


My hope was that these random snippets would eventually coalesce into a convincing theory of *something*. But the big picture never emerged for me. If anything, the piece reads like meta-commentary on the ways in which the internet in general – and social media in particular – have fractured our thinking (as explored in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains).

In summary: My main issue with Ducks is that the text is so undigested. The purpose of literature, in my opinion, is to give us craftsmanship, to focus our attention on a set of themes or ideas, to take the raw materials of life and elevate them to the level of “art”. What we’ve got here is an unfiltered word salad, an artificial edifice posing as a modern-day brain-dump.

On page 987, the narrator bemoans the monotony of inhabiting someone else’s mind:

“…walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, the fact that if I’d walked a mile in Ronny’s shoes I would’ve bored the pants off everybody in the neighborhood… the fact that if I’d walked a mile in his shoes I wouldn’t have had time for my own life, my life…”

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about this book.

Mood: Laborious, tedious, mind-numbing, exasperating
Rating: 5.5/10
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,553 reviews605 followers
July 25, 2021
I love this book but can't think of anyone that I'd recommend it to. If I had read the print copy or listened to it at a different time, it might have bored and irritated me. Initially it feels like an involuntary explosion of verbiage, but gradually takes a coherent, resplendent shape. There isn't really a story arc or plot or character development. (Although now that I think about it, the narrator's teenage daughter Stacy does change.) Through her torrent of words, I got to know the narrator's anxieties, regrets, nightmares, how she misses her "mommy" and feels broken, loves her husband Leo and considers herself an inadequate mother. And lots and lots of pie making. She became alive to me.

The fact is, I know this narrator better than most real people in my life.

I listened to Stephanie Ellyne's magnificent narration and let the novel stream, bubble and flow into my ears over a few weeks. And what an unexpected ending! I also have a copy of the text which is an intimidating 1000 pages with no paragraph breaks. Listening to it was perfect for me.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
812 reviews880 followers
September 3, 2019
Two temptations when writing about a book like this: the first is to imitate its “crazee” infectious style, adopt its motifs, and in this case start every phrase with “the fact that,” and the second is to translate it into something more conventional, excavate its characters and plot, stripping away all disorientation, themes, and exaggerated logorrhea.

Generally, I loved this for the first few hundred pages, thinking of it like a modern Midwestern Molly Bloom soliloquy (complete with a husband named Leo), a quasi American Bernhardian Knausgaardian exagmination of the quotidian, structurally similar to Matias Enard’s Zone (discontinuous single sentence — phrase pile-up, really — separated by brief installments of comparatively conventional story), thriving thanks to competing/conflicting forces that extrude and contract (girth and great sentence length versus constant bursts of word-association shorthand).

On the most American of page numbers (76), the title's famous precedent from Lolita appears: "My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three.” In this, the "motif" is introduced with a story about an enormous penguin and the response to it ("cool") -- later on "penguin, 'cool'" appears, and that's one of the ways a reader starts to have fun with this, learning how to read this, how to climb the sheer rock face of phrases without full stops or space breaks. But there are plenty of handholds and little regularly appearing ledges that help you "send" this one -- it's not at all difficult reading, it's totally accessible, mostly because the tone/style, the pitch of the language, is so even-keeled, without pretentious poetic flourish or much variation: "equability's my A1 priority" on pg 79).

And of course there's "the fact that," which serves as a sort of space break, a grammar, and is thematically interesting in a work of fiction which is essentially, like Enard's Zone and Compass, a Major Reference Work, a Wiki-marbled novel (for me, it's "marbled," not "larded") that feels like a compendium of readily available facts copied, pasted, and if not necessary charged then at least propelled with some purpose.

But by 560 for some reason, soon after learning the meaning of the title (it feels like a spoiler to discuss it because learning what it refers to was critical propulsion for me, really the only plot-ish engine other than the story about the lion -- also seemed like its revelation came too early on page 504 -- around 475 I started thinking that it wouldn't be revealed until the end as a carrot for the reader to strive for), my reading accelerated somewhat through the primary “the fact that” steam of consciousness POV, looking forward to the short, interstitial, comparatively conventional segments from the perspective of a lioness.

Sometimes thought it was written by a computer programmed to emit phrases that somehow corresponded to an endless elaboration of Pi . . . Loved it, rooted for it, recommended it, but then it started to seem inexhaustible — and the system of associations too often returned to Hollywood movies/actors (Harrison Ford, Jane Fonda, Walter Matthau), environmental devastation and assorted horrors at the hands of corporations and men, as well as really recent Trump-related news that was interesting at first, relevant, hefty, charged, but that dulled for me with repetition and exposure, as though the pathos and contemporary politics felt tacked on, pasted in, enough already, thereby effectively mirroring the emotional/psychological overload pretty much everyone feels three years into the "SUPER CALLOUS FRAGILE RACIST SEXIST NAZI POTUS" era (loved the bit about Stace's class photo T-shirt). In short, its game got played out for me a little beyond the midway point, I experienced negative reality overload, and yet there were still some 400 pages to go.

The whole antecedent correction thing also irritated me whenever it appeared -- not this, that. But with so much time and enjoyment and interest already invested there was no way I’d put it down — I had to push through, albeit a little quicker than before, especially when the focus returned to movies, pies, environmental atrocities, town names, etc.

It’s odd how in a novel like this, one that undermines conventional expectation of plot and character, it’s exactly plot and character that shine through when they do appear, as though made more valuable by scarcity. The determined lioness had my total attention throughout because she passionately wants something particular. Even the scrappy little submissive chicken coop mongrel that follows her seems more interesting than the narrator's family, friends, and children, who other than Stace never really seemed to come to much life. Leo, loving and benevolent foil for everything awful related to men, appears off-stage throughout, an academic who specializes in bridges, which seems almost too thematically perfect in an associative novel? But none of this means I wasn't in this one's favor, just that like the country it's explicitly about (it comes with a mini American flag suitable for sticking in a cupcake and was published on July 4), the gist is complicated, its glories and gore indivisible (same is true for lionesses apparently).

Two other semi-major dealios at play in my mind while reading: the author's gender and geographic residence. I was attracted by this in part because it's a massive brick of text by a woman. Women have written long novels. I'm pretty sure JK Rowling is a woman. But when it comes to experimental/unconventional mega-novels, other than Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, which I own but haven't read more than the first three pages of, it's been a male domain. So I was interested in a Bernhardian mega-rant long sentence from the perspective of a middle-aged Midwestern woman who has "led a pretty shark-free, tornado-free, hurricane-free, cyclone-free, volcano-free, war-free, bomb-free-, plane-crash-free, gun-rampage-free, rape-free, murder-free, electrocution-free existence" (pg 703), that is, her perspective is privileged and self-aware -- she's a cancer survivor and suffering from health care costs but she's not a victim run by the author through a cruel-fate wringer to make a single clear socially relevant point or maximize poignancy.

The author also was born and raised in the US but now lives in Scotland, so there's something there too, a sense of displacement or exile or criticism from afar that I liked sometimes thinking about as I read, the sense that the author is not the narrator although probably in many ways not NOT the narrator either. But regardless of reductions related to current spatial occupancy and gender, since the vast majority of novels exist on a uniform and thereby Utopian and universal plane of bound whitish pages covered in ordered lines of blackish print, it's the author's sensibility and the reader's engagement and activated imaginative capacities that matter most. At times I wished the author had supplied a narrator with more range, especially when it came to cultural reference. All the references, from Little House on the Prairie to The Sound of Music, made the narrator seem much older than someone who seemed to be essentially my age, so where was she in the '80s and early '90s? Only watching Harrison Ford movies? What about MTV? U2? Nary a mention of wholly American exports like hip hop or Nirvana, let alone Tortoise (one of the reasons I love Knausgaard, who talks about Tortoise in one of the volumes).

I guess I'm talking about the point where relatability meets believability. The fact that frequent cultural references are related to old-timey not-very-PC prairie life (LHOTP) and Nazi Germany (TSOM) almost undermines believability because it seems contrived by the author to reflect on a contemporary Red State. Lack of random references to wholly American late '80s hair metal like Ratt and Whitesnake made this less relatable and less believable than it could have been. It almost seemed like the author had this story about an older (like in her sixties or seventies) Ohioan pie baker sitting around for a while but then blew it up with contemporary American politics and made her younger? Really just thinking about this now a few days after finishing. But the cultural references suggest an older narrator, or one who stopped paying attention to pop culture at some point when she would've been in her late teens?

Another thing I was thinking about, early on at least, was how the hell could something this good not be published by a single American publisher?! (It's North American publisher in September will be Biblioasis, which is based in Canada.) I shook my fist at American publishers. But then by page 600 or so, with 400 to go, yeah, OK, I get it, I see how they respectfully declined. But it's discouraging that there aren't at least a handful of indie presses in the US who might have seemed like natural choices for taking a shot at this, like for example an Archipelago Books that primarily published novels originally written in English by Americans (even if they currently live elsewhere).

So, ultimately, I found this worth the time spent with it, exciting and rewarding and "great" at first, but then less so the longer it got -- it could've been like 350-500 pages shorter and not suffered a bit, except who knows if I would have ordered a merely 500-page novel all the way from the UK. Extreme length is essential to its marketing but also combined with minimal formal variety -- its equability, ultimately -- it probably won't be all that celebrated in the end (I'm talking about posterity, people -- I mean in a hundred/thousand years, not ephemeral celebrations like "2019 Booker Award Finalist," although that's pretty great and I hope it wins). But I'd definitely recommend it to those who wouldn't mind getting a taste of this one's greatness without worrying about every single word (how many among us have read every single footnote in Infinite Jest or every single line describing murdered women in 2666?) and want to support ambitious individuated unconventional literature with limited commercial potential.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
687 reviews3,402 followers
August 28, 2019
I will sometimes enthusiastically purchase long novels with the best intentions of reading them soon but nonetheless they’ll typically remain on my shelf for many years before I get to them. But I was strongly tempted by the description of Lucy Ellmann’s monumental “Ducks, Newburyport” and its Booker Prize longlisting buzz got to me so I put it on my immediate reading list. While it's intimidating to read a 1000 page novel that’s mostly narrated in one unbroken sentence, “Ducks, Newburyport” is also hypnotic for the rhythm it develops, the frequent Laugh-Out-Loud humour and the moving way it builds a portrait of the life of an Ohio housewife and her many anxieties living in America today. Her story radiates a warm familiarity as we come to intimately know her sweeping stream of thoughts while baking a mountain of pies to sell and food for her family. It also inspired me to bake cinnamon rolls for the first time - and you can watch me demonstrate a simple recipe for cinnamon rolls alongside my video review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r60BV_UNoUM!

The narrator ruminates on a whole range of subjects from her personal past to her immediate family life caring for four children to local news to political divisions in America to global environmental concerns. Usually these thoughts become mixed together and happen concurrently so she needs to periodically pause and clarify what she’s referring to. She’s also affected by what’s happening around her, the films she watches while baking and odd song lyrics which surface randomly in her mind. The trivial rubs up alongside what feels dearly important. This profusion of things running through her mind has a consistent rhythm so it becomes easy to follow and accumulates more meaning as certain subjects, memories or ideas resurface frequently. Thus they steadily acquire more resonance and also take on a humorous edge as the barrage of thoughts will sometimes become jumbled and absurd. There’s something mesmerising and hypnotic about this constant flow of words. It’s addictive and so tempting to emulate!

Read my full review of Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Violeta.
87 reviews77 followers
December 13, 2021
…the fact that there are seven and a half billion people in the world, so there must be seven and a half billion of these internal monologues going on…

In her lecture “Experience and Fiction” Shirley Jackson emphasizes that “people in stories are called characters because that is what they are. They are not real people. It is, of course, possible to choose a character and describe him so completely that the reader sees him as a whole personality. The only trouble with that is that it takes several thousand pages of solid description, including a lot of very dull reading.”

Perhaps those lines were the inspiration to what Lucy Ellmann set out to do here: check out if her writing abilities could indeed turn a character into a 'person'. And if her readers’ sensibilities could perceive her as one. It took 988 pages of a single sentence punctuated only by the phrase “the fact that” which serves as an interface between her character’s raw thoughts (by a rough estimate it’s being uttered nearly 20,000 times). It wasn’t dull but at times it was difficult to concentrate on this endless drone.

Said ‘character’ is a middle-aged Ohio woman, a stay-at-home mother of 4, ex college-professor, cancer-survivor, doting wife. She’s running a home based pie-making business and forever trying to deal with the trauma of losing her own ‘mommy’ at a young age. The story of a mountain lioness looking for her cubs interjects every 50 pages or so, and the linear narrative of those brief parts feels like a crystal-clear stream running along the mudded river of human consciousness.

I started reading this book 10 months ago, intrigued by its theme and structure and by the varied reactions of GR friends whose opinions I trust. “A submersion into another person’s mind, how fascinating”, I thought. “This is someone else’s clutter, it will maybe take me away from my own.” Clutter? Yes, clutter. If there’s one thing this ‘story’ shows is how cluttered our lives are. With objects, tasks, longings, memories, regrets, guesses and fears. It ended up serving as a mirror, telling me as much about myself as a reader, mother and person of these specific times as it did about that woman. Needless to say I felt for her, it’s impossible not to. That doesn’t mean I always agreed with her take on things but that’s not important. We are not always on the same page with the people we live with (and I ‘lived’ with her for 10 whole months) but we, at least, try to understand. It didn’t hurt either that she talked a lot about movies and we seemed to have the same cinematic tastes. :)

So, what is this book exactly? A literary experiment? Social commentary? Reading challenge? An exercise in compassion? All of the above, in my opinion. But it’s also one of those books that you have to see for yourself what it’s all about and then form an opinion. Whatever it is for each and every one of its readers, the beauty of it is that if you manage to reach the end you feel you’ve accomplished something BIG! I bet Ms Ellmann felt the same. Such effort from both reader and writer deserves nothing less than 5 stars and that’s what I’m wholeheartedly giving it.

P.S. 1/3 in I switched to audio, keeping the physical copy close by for re-reads of passages that I especially liked – they were many. I can’t speak highly enough of the narrator, Stephanie Ellyne; she took the concept of breathing life into a character to a whole new level!
Profile Image for Ace.
434 reviews22 followers
April 3, 2020
This is quite an achievement which took years in the making and covers so much, the mind boggles. I am so glad to have taken the plunge and read it. A unique and hopeful book about how vulnerable we are in what has become a fucking bizarre world to live in. 5 stars
Profile Image for Pedro.
198 reviews437 followers
January 17, 2020
I don’t like politics and patriotic speeches. I avoid at all costs any discussion on those topics. Don’t even get me started on that. My opinions are strong. I’m well known for having one (opinion) about every possible subject matter. What can I say? What can I do? Am I right? Am I wrong? Does it matter? No, it doesn’t matter, because, unfortunately (maybe) I can’t change a thing about anything just by using common sense or my good will. But, do I really want to make a difference? Yes, I do. Do I wish the world could be a better place for us and our children? Oh, yes, more than anything. Can I do it on my own? No, I can’t. No one can make it on their own, although a lot of people think they can. Bellybutton. Selfishness. Egocentric. People, not bellybuttons. Trump, tramp, ramp, rampage, random, round. Flat earth. Environmental disaster. Balance. The most important thing. Balance, not environmental disaster. Pollution, solution. Bus stop. Gosh, I hate waiting for the bus. No, no, no, I actually hate waiting in general. Waiting for the apocalypse. Trump, rump, rump steak. Tortured animals. KFC. 100 billion chickens a year. Pork. Teenagers wearing ear phones all the time. I actually think I have an ear infection, or maybe a sinus infection. I can’t hear properly. Uncomfortable. Truth. Blocked ears. I believe in you. Do you believe in me too? Trump. Lies. Guns. Loneliness. Lioness. Ducks, Newburyport. I loved that book. Hypnotising. Stream of consciousness. All the kids on the bus wearing their damn earphones and thinking about their damn bellybuttons. Obsessive parenthood. This damn bus stoping all the time. I hate being late. And waiting. Tramp. Trump. Re-election. Injection. Ear infection. Uncomfortable truth. Nature. Environmental disaster. Ducks, Newburyport. My mom. The way I always wanted to be close to my mom when I was I kid. And I still do. Love. Dove. Ducks. Lions. Endangered. Disaster. Finally at work. Environmental disaster. Get all the work done. Perfectionism. Perfect. Ducks, Newburyport.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
921 reviews979 followers
February 5, 2020
I am too busy to write a review of this incredible book, but a couple of things just to counter some points I have seen made elsewhere that I am noting as I go:

1. we are told a number of times, for example, that the radio is on in the background and that, for example, the news is on. We are also told she is looking something up on the computer etc. All of which may be useful to keep in mind if you find yourself wondering how an interior dialogue can contain so many facts/news items.

2. But of course this is irrelevant because this is a Novel and anything goes. It is not the “truth of the accountant” but that of the artist.

3. the fact that this is a book about love. Love of children, parents, siblings, husbands, cubs, cakes...and therefore also about loss, as you can't have one without the other (indeed, they go together like a horse and carriage). It is, at times, devastatingly sad.

4. The petty surrealism of our modern life

5. This is the view from the liberal, educated bubble, of course. I wonder if it would be more meaningful for an author in such a bubble to try and write the interior life of someone outside of it (and I believe our author is a Sanders supporter, if my memory serves). Or would it be more worthwhile for me to read one written by an author with an opposing world view? In a political sense, this book was preaching to the choir, but was it ever intended to do otherwise?
Could one have a conservative/republican maximalist novel like this anyway? To put it to an extreme, would a Trump-supporting, racist, Climate Change denier want to write a 1000 page interior monologue? Or is it precisely my liberal-blinders that make me think this is even a question that needs asking?

6. the fact that she has obviously got me rambling on to myself now too
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,984 reviews1,992 followers
October 16, 2019
This CBC Radio interview recorded before she didn't win the Booker, and is tremendously interesting.

Real Rating: 4.75* of five

Can't do this justice. I don't know that I fully *got* the book; the story isn't much, but then again neither is Ulysses. The unfolding awareness, the blossoming consciousness, the sheer bravura attack on lesser lights of literary mediocrity that this long sentence represents is enough in and of itself to command your eyeblinks.

I'll pass on an important tip for those whose literary tastes quail before sentences sesquipedalian: Whenever "the fact that" appears, mentally insert a period. You will be amazed at how big a difference this makes to your sense of control over the material.

If you're not averse to experiments with form, though, I recommend submerging into the current of words. It is the reading equivalent of leaving the sauna and leaping naked into the icy water of a Swedish wintertime lake. It is the experience of spending a long, wearing hike of the gorgeous Appalachian trail unshowered, then coming to a long, hot shower with soft, warm towels to soothe your weary muscles.

Yes. It is that good.
Profile Image for Doug.
2,048 reviews747 followers
August 31, 2019
Really at a loss as to how to review this behemoth door-stopper of a book. Although very early on I harbored thoughts of DNF'ing it, I'm so glad I labored on, since at some point, the book becomes downright addictive and it's difficult to put down. I still have a few quibbles, mainly that although much of the 'stream-of-consciousness' format makes sense and is often clever and humorous, there are also times that there are non-sequiturs or words/lists that come totally out of left field... it's not necessarily the length that disturbed me as the fact so much of it is stellar, that those times when I felt the author was a bit indulgent... bugged me.

Minor complaint though, since this is such a sui generis piece of work, and it ultimately rewards the time invested. I'd suggest anyone contemplating the climb up the mountain to read the Kindle edition, as this is a book that requires so much backtracking to search for previous names/situations and definition assistance that it really helps to have those features readily available. It doesn't QUITE top my Booker rankings for this year (that honor goes to Ms. Levy), but it comes in at a close second.

Fun fact: the LAST book that took me ten days to read was last year's Booker winner - which was 1/3 the length!

PS.... one of the best things about the political underpinnings of the book is that Ellmann dares bring up a topic that NO major media outlet has had the cojones to report: namely the all too credible allegations that the faux president, in tandem with recently deceased convicted pedophile J. Epstein, raped a 13 year old girl. Should you care to learn the facts about that case, go to Justiceforkatie.com.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,084 reviews926 followers
July 12, 2021
WINNER OF THE GOLDSMITHS PRIZE 2019

When I read about this novel in the Guardian, I was intrigued but also put off by its size. Nevertheless, I went to Edelweiss and requested the ARC, thinking if I’m meant to read it I’ll get approved. Many thanks to the publishers for approving my request.

As you’ve probably heard, this is a very long novel, written from the point of view of an unnamed forty-something stay-at-home mother of four, who lives in Newcomerstown, Ohio. She ruminates, wonders, jumps from one thing to another; she’s perplexed, vexed, stuck, scared, and filled with guilt; she’s nervous, neurotic, forgetful, distracted, intense and constantly tired. She’s a good representation for many mothers in today’s developed world. Three years prior, she had had cancer, “the embarrassing kind”, which put a strain on the family’s finances, which is why she’s taken to baking pies and other desserts to sell to cafes and diners. Her second husband, Leo, and the biological father to the youngest three kids, is an Engineering professor at an Ohio University. He sounds like a great guy, which is a nice counterbalance to all the male vileness mentioned in the book.

Have you ever wished you had less knowledge about current affairs, politics, the environment, hoping that ignorance might bring you some semblance of bliss? Is it possible to be happy and serene when one knows about the crazy world we live in? Is it surprising that so many people suffer from anxiety? This novel is basically riddled with one woman’s anxieties. I related to some and understood others.

There are several themes that keep popping up in this novel:
- how much her mother’s stroke just “broke her”
- male violence
- deadbeat dads
- parenthood and its many tribulations
- gun violence and the constant fear that someone will shoot your kids while at school
- the environment and the damage caused by humans
- history and the many cruelties and injustices perpetrated against the native people
- police violence.

Several movies and books are discussed in detail - some I knew, others I had to look up. Google will be your friend on many occasions.

Ducks, Newburyport is extremely contemporary, a time capsule of Trump’s America. It’s mesmerising, original, realistic, intelligent, observant, and occasionally amusing. Oh, and anxiety-inducing.

Ultimately, this was satisfying and worthwhile the time spent in its company.
It’s not for everybody, no book is.

Brava, Ms Ellmann.
Profile Image for Jola.
184 reviews278 followers
July 30, 2020
The fact that I loved Ducks, Newburyport to bits, although I am aware that some things did not go so well, the fact that since I finished reading this novel I have been feeling like a part of me is gone, the fact that now I have to literally force myself not to start all over again, the fact that I am grateful to my Goodreads friends for following my crazy - crazee! - journey and making this reading experience even more special.

Review to come.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,302 reviews450 followers
January 22, 2022
Let me just say that this was the most intense reading experience of my life. I not only felt like I knew this woman, I WAS this woman. I was in her head for over 1000 pages, quite literally in her head, with brief sojourns about a mountain lion roaming the countryside to find her missing cubs. I felt the love she had for her 4 kids and her husband (what a guy!), knew their quirks and hopes and dreams. This novel encompasses everything in our lives today, everything we all deal with and fear and cope with on a daily basis, pre-Covid, that is.

As my friend Lisa said, this is not a book I would recommend to anyone because of the unique writing style. No paragraphs or sentences, no periods, nothing but stream of consciousness musings by a shy, unconfident but brave woman trying to do her best for her family. If you can get past that, which I did just a few pages in, you will not be reading, but experiencing her life right along with her.

I read a downloaded copy of this book. It took me 2 months to finish it, except for the last 100 pages, which I finished in one sitting this afternoon. What an ending! I am in awe of what Lucy Ellmann has done here. And I am beyond glad that I decided to give it a chance. I would have missed so much. As it is, I am going to miss her voice, which I had come to count on every day.

I will put this on my favorites list, but doubt I will reread it anytime soon. Who knows though, it's hard to quit an addiction cold turkey.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books818 followers
October 29, 2020
While I was reading this book, too big to read in bed, I read Olga Grushin’s Forty Rooms (as well as several other books). Both novels, published in "our" time, deal with a “housewife” with “too many” children. Each woman’s household is in America, though Grushin’s protagonist was born in Russia and Ellmann’s narrator has a vague English way about her. (The character lived in London for a year when she was younger would be the only explanation for that.)

Another book I read during the time of Ducks was Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages. Jackson had the same number of children as the Ducks narrator; housekeeping, while each woman deals with a separate stay-at-home career, could be chaotic for both. The Ducks narrator sometimes comes across as if she could be from Jackson’s time period (the 40s and 50s). Her references seemed to be of a woman around my age, but I came to realize she’s a decade-and-a-half younger.

I related to the narrator’s ceaseless thinking -- imagine how I felt when I saw her thoughts Shirley Jackson, the Beatles (two of my obsessions) right next to each other!--her nighttime dreams; the books she’d read; her feelings about all that’s wrong with America (which have only intensified during this week; it seems as if the intensifying is never-ending). After the first few pages, I fell into the rhythm of her the fact that; I found her voice soothing. I felt a thrill when pieces started connecting to other pieces, all culminating in an effective ending. I didn’t find the book too long; I could’ve read more.
Profile Image for Ella.
736 reviews131 followers
August 5, 2019
There is a feeling these days, living in the USA - call it stress, call it anxiety, call it embarrassment or more realistically it's shame, call it deadly, call it urgency and laziness all together, wonderwoman and malaise rolled into one, call it traumatic far too often, call it what you will, this book just nails it so perfectly that it is both a joy and a little bit painful to read.

I read a book similar in size this year and it took months. Not so with Ducks, Newburyport because it was like someone had been living inside my head and it felt comforting knowing that I'm not completely alone in this murky, mucky existence.

There is a running anxious commentary in my head but it doesn't seem to dovetail like this one (perhaps I should find an editor for my brain) and it's not as eloquent. We worry about some of the same things and many different ones but the similarity is eery - and I can't believe it's just those of us living in the US, partly because the author doesn't. I'd imagine worrying about the amount of plastic that seems almost forced upon us is probably universal, worrying about the fact that nobody seems to do more than talk about the state of the planet we inhabit, worrying about political nutjobs, and the way people are constantly gunned down or tossed away like they just don't matter, worrying about the fact that everyone is soooo freaking angry.... you get the picture.

I can't say anything profound, but this book was a wonder to read if only because it kept me relatively sane for the week I took to read it, and I might pick it up again next week. I don't bake pies, but reading can at least stave off a bit of the horror from time to time, and Ducks, Newburyport was a really wonderful read that I was thrilled to jump into bed every night and snuggle right into the whatever along with the narrator and the mountain lions and everyone else who is living in this state of crud.
Profile Image for George.
Author 16 books268 followers
September 27, 2019
This book seemed uniquely maximalist, turning each reader into their own antenna that picks out references and allusions from the "torrent of meaningless info," as it's described on the back of the book. What with confirmation bias at play, one could almost nurture the illusion that this book was written with them specifically in mind. Such were my first impressions, but after reading more and more I feel that the book suffers from being almost solipsistically monophonic, a single radio transmission that only briefly picks up on the white noise of other stations and engages with them on a more or less superficial level. The brief lioness sections that are lightly peppered throughout do little to add another voice/perspective. Thus, in a way, if you've read the first 100 pages of this book then you've read the first 400, due to the white noise style.

While the structure is unique overall, there are certain tics that recall White Noise, specifically the list of name brands. And the free association/rhyming is the most interesting part of the book and reminded me of the Ulysses' riff: "Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and Pinbad the Pailer and Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer...” I do agree with another reader who said that the antecedent corrections were annoying, failed attempts at humor at best.

Let it be known that "the fact that" is the new grand champion of verbal tics, formerly belonging to "type of thing" in DFW's The Pale King. I found that the mind becomes desensitized to the phrase, retreating into the background of the experience, so it's not as annoying as it could be at face value, but I don’t think it adds anything to the immediate reading experience. Sure, one could say that the inundation of so-called facts reflects the sorry state of American culture, lacking as it does respect for critical thinking skills, and thus everything is a ‘fact.’

As readers have been discovering, Ducks is not really a single sentence, even though saying so makes for great marketing doesn’t it, at least for a certain group of people who enjoy ostensibly challenging literature, like me. There are numerous instances on each page where a period could replace a comma. I think the commas are more of a visual phenomenon in this case rather than anything truly grammatical. I read somewhere that the publisher recommends taking breaks too. The "Penelope" episode of Ulysses, on the other hand, is much more of a single sentence and I pleasurably read it in one sitting.

While reading this, there was the feeling that "I could write that." Which is similar to the cliché critique of modern art. But with modern art, it's not about the skill of execution per se, but the feelings evoked by the piece. And I think that's the saving grace of this novel, the feelings it can evoke, not its subpar technicality or lack thereof. I think that’s why other people are really enjoying this novel, but it didn’t really resonate with me on that level either.

I didn’t love this, nor did I hate it, I found the prose style and the quotidian content to be just interesting/amusing enough to warrant an ambitiously mediocre label. It’s a long book, but not difficult, and it would be quite an easy read if you find the narrator’s thoughts particularly stimulating. I think one problem I had is that the narrator’s thoughts felt too obvious or platitudinous to me. After taking a break to read Omensetter’s Luck, I found that I had very little interest in returning to this book and with around 600 pages left, there are too many books I’m yearning to read in order to give this one more of my time. I pushed through all 850 pages of the mediocre-at-best The Runaway Soul by Harold Brodkey, hoping for some revelatory moment, but it never came, so I don’t want to go through something similar with Ducks.

Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,375 followers
Read
December 31, 2018
I'm a push over. Antonomasia not so much as breathed the title than I ran off and pre=order'd thus'un direct from the pub'r direct from England this book. Blow me over there's a LTD ED of 500 available and for just 18 quid (is that proper English dear?) plus another 9 for shipping to Usofa minus 20 percent cuz I signed up for their newslitter and though it did take the entry of three (3!!!!) cards of credit (my good faith!) before they'd process ye ole Payment.

There are so many ways I'm able to rationalize this purchase it's just almost like I'm doing God's work by buying it. I'm really making the world a better place by doing so.

I hope you folks have a happy scoot into the new year and be safe and well. And maybe stumble across more books the purchase of which you feel might almost be like doing Gods' work because probably (who knows) it is.



Back to the Ducks. Go to ::
https://www.galleybeggar.co.uk/shop-1...
and read the following for instance ::
Ducks, Newburyport will be published on 4 July 2019

This is the special, limited edition run of 500 copies, available on pre-order and while stock lasts. The mass-market paperback edition will be available closer to publication.

For further details, including shipping rates,* see below.

“It is somehow hard not to feel optimistic in the hands of a writer so angry and intelligent.” —The Guardian

‘… I dreamt last night about somebody complaining that he owned a “lesser Cézanne” while I was tearing heartshaped buttons off a shirt, and something about a ferret, the fact that my dreams have become more practical and less expansive, I think, since we got poorer, the fact that I should be swinging wild but instead my dreams are just about tidying the hen coop or unloading the dishwasher, or losing my address book, or I’m cooking noodles for everybody and Leo has a plane to catch in half an hour and there’s no taxi, or I find myself on a bicycle carrying a huge box, the fact that once I dreamt I ate one tiny piece of ham, and that was it, that was the whole dream, the fact that I dream all the wrong stuff and remember all the wrong stuff, what a goofball, “a genuine idiot,” the fact that why do I remember that Amish wool shop and not my mom, …’

LATTICING one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ’n’ beans?

A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder—and a revolution in the novel.

It’s also very, very funny.

[blurbs] ::
“Lunatic and splenetic and distinctive... I begin to suspect [Lucy Ellmann] might be some sort of genius” —The Telegraph

“Reading Ellmann is like finding bits of broken glass in your lollipop.” —The Evening Standard

“Hilarious, eye-wateringly funny… I have found a new hero in Lucy Ellmann.” —The Scotsman

“Ellmann is an expert juggler with words. Her satire is deft, sophisticated, and enchantingly surreal.” —The Sunday Telegraph

Profile Image for The Dazzling Stranger.
121 reviews186 followers
March 1, 2020
Lions and ducks and pies, oh my…

Quack This Way folks this word feast of a novel will vibrate your tuning forks.

I know I overzealously gush with excitement when the idea and sentence craft of a new book gets into my system, but everything about this one is to be celebrated and cherished – from the discerning taste and brave support of a small independent publishing house, Galley Beggars Press, to the writer Lucy Ellmann’s bold and powerful concept and writing style. I get a real high discovering a novel that moves me beyond my experience of traditional narrative, and Ducks, Newburyport is a bold literary word feast, that had me rapt in awe, exhilarated, traumatised, laughing and elated from moment-to-moment.

It carries the reader along in 1,020 pages stream-of-consciousness and character driven wordplay, and notably, in one single sentence.

Coming to this book after reading David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, which deals with boredom, mindfulness and where one focuses one's attention, I felt the contrasts of having been carried along the lake of attuned serenity ahead of plunging over and down into a wild cacophonous waterfall of thoughts.

For even though the narrator’s setting is prosaic and domestic, her inner ruminating is a tumult of her own personal story and the wider world's chaotic disarray; of political and environmental horrors and terrors. Over time the accretion of themes and motifs coalesce and gradually tease out the emerging narrative. In the novel’s more traditional domestic setting, the narrator is recovering from the Big C and works from home, at her small business, baking pies and cakes, pondering and ruminating about ingredients, her life and the universe. In its wider view and ambition the novel’s real story is more primeval, of family and survival – surviving the end of a relationship or just Armageddon.

Add one spoonful of domestic setting and stir in the epic, devastating and dramatic narrative of the world collapsing in on itself, and pop it the oven until it’s light and fluffy…

While that’s cooking up in the novel, intermittent passages told from the perspective of a mountain lion take us on a journey from nature into the urban landscape. Much like the overall puzzle-like-assemblage of the novel, the reader is left to make connections between these two high level narratives.

A signature writing technique is the prefix 'the fact that’ which is used to perpetuate the suspended sentence with no apparent end. It diminishes into the rhythm of the writing in the same way ‘she said’ attribution does and takes on a comforting aspect of punctuation and structure. And the aphoristic recollections of the protagonist’s lifetime are in concert with lists, earworms, word association, alteration, puns, allusion, delusion(Ronny!) epigraph, foreshadowing, metaphor, mixed metaphors, metaphors on toast, in cakes and in pies.

This novel is at turns brutal and traumatising then hilarious and comforting. It's a novel to live inside for the duration of the reading and it blends into one's own daily experiences.

It affected me deeply and I'm still thinking and ruminating on it.

Moby Duck, the New Great American-born British Novel.
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