Ducks, Newburyport

$17.78

WINNER OF THE 2019 GOLDSMITHS PRIZE SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 BOOKER PRIZE A NEW YORKER BEST BOOK OF 2019 A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2019 A TIME MUST-READ BOOK OF 2019 A WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE WORK OF FICTION 2019 A CHICAGO TRIBUNE BEST BOOK OF 2019 A GLOBE & MAIL BOOK THAT SHAPED 2019 A BOOK RIOT BEST BOOK OF 2019 A TIMES CRITICS’ TOP BOOK OF 2019 A TORONTO STAR TOP TEN BOOK OF 2019 Baking a multitude of tartes tatins for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing? With a torrent of consciousness and an intoxicating coziness, Ducks, Newburyport lays out a whole world for you to tramp around in, by turns frightening and funny. A heart-rending indictment of America’s barbarity, and a lament for the way we are blundering into environmental disaster, this book is both heresy―and a revolution in the novel.

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Review

PRAISE FOR DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT

“Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport offers a radical literary form and voice. Dense to look at, challengingly epic, the novel is built around one Ohio housewife’s monologue, flowing with dazzling lightness and speed. The detritus and maddening complexity of domesticity unfold in one breath, over a thousand pages. Shards of film plot and song collide with climate change anxiety; the terrors of parenting, healthcare and shopping lists wrestle with fake news and gun culture. The narrator reverberates with humour, wordplay and political rage. The writing resonates like a dissonant yet recognisable American symphony for massive forces, with riffs and themes folding back, proliferating, and gradually cohering. Its one long sentence occasionally breaks to simply describe a mountain lioness and her cubs: a meditation on nurture that will be wrapped into the violence of the ending. Lucy Ellmann has written a genre-defying novel, a torrent on modern life, as well as a hymn to loss and grief. Her creativity and sheer obduracy make demands on the reader. But Ellmann’s daring is exhilarating ― as are the wit, humanity and survival of her unforgettable narrator.” ―Booker Prize Judge, Joanna MacGregor

“Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport offers a radical literary form and voice. Dense to look at, challengingly epic, the novel is built around one Ohio housewife’s monologue, flowing with dazzling lightness and speed. The detritus and maddening complexity of domesticity unfold in one breath, over a thousand pages. Shards of film plot and song collide with climate change anxiety; the terrors of parenting, healthcare and shopping lists wrestle with fake news and gun culture. The narrator reverberates with humour, wordplay and political rage. The writing resonates like a dissonant yet recognisable American symphony for massive forces, with riffs and themes folding back, proliferating, and gradually cohering. Its one long sentence occasionally breaks to simply describe a mountain lioness and her cubs: a meditation on nurture that will be wrapped into the violence of the ending. Lucy Ellmann has written a genre-defying novel, a torrent on modern life, as well as a hymn to loss and grief. Her creativity and sheer obduracy make demands on the reader. But Ellmann’s daring is exhilarating―as are the wit, humanity and survival of her unforgettable narrator.” ―2019 Booker Prize Jury Citation

“This book has its face pressed up against the pane of the present; its form mimics the way our minds move now toggling between tabs, between the needs of small children and aging parents, between news of ecological collapse and school shootings while somehow remembering to pay taxes and fold the laundry…The capaciousness of the book allows Ellmann to stretch and tell the story of one family on a canvas that stretches back to the bloody days of Western expansion, but its real value feels deeper ― it demands the very attentiveness, the care, that it enshrines.”―Parul Sehgal, New York Times

“Brilliantly ambitious…At times there’s such fury to these ruminations that the book seems to shift into direct cultural critique; at other times it all seems simply part of the story…The lioness offers a foil, a figure of natural instinct and maternal courage set against the narrator’s culturally determined fears and insecurities…This is a novel, but it is also, fundamentally, a very long and meaningful list…as accumulative, as pointed, as death-addled, as joyous, as storied, as multitudinous and as large as life.” ―Martin Riker, New York Times Book Review

“Ellmann captures the pathos of the everyday, how one might use pie crusts and film synopses to dam in pain. She also allows the narrator’s avoidance to suggest a greater amnesia, an American reluctance to face its past and its ongoing brutalities. The narrator lives in a country whose mythic propositions hang in the same limbo as her run-on sentence…Ellmann’s commitment to compilation and description suggests a resistance to hierarchies. It also flickers with tenderness. The time and care that she lavishes on her narrator seem like their own form of political speculation―that every individual is owed an unending devotion, and that such devotion, applied universally, might change the fate of the world.” ―New Yorker

“Effervescent…as the book closes in on the thrilling ― and unexpected ― conclusion, the disparate strands tossed out at the novel’s onset gleam with import…Ducks, Newburyport directs us back to the language on the page, so we become hyper-aware of it…Ellmann has made a case that a richer, less regimented language leads to a more vibrant and capacious mind, and has thus crafted the entrancing Ducks, Newburyport into a celebration of all that words, and the minds they build, can contain.” Chicago Review of Books

“A sublime literary enactment of how guilt, grief, rage, regret, compassion, and every other emotion swirls and ebbs in unbalanced defiance of rational logic…The very form of Ducks, Newburyport is perhaps the ultimate expression of life’s absurd disproportionality…The free-associative stream accumulates into a work of great formal beauty, whose distinctive linguistic rhythms and patterns envelop the reader like music or poetry. Equally, it forms a damning indictment on capitalist patriarchy that, in an extraordinary feat from a writer at the height of her powers, never veers within a mile of sanctimony or self-righteousness. If art is measured by how skillfully it holds a mirror up to society, then Ellmann has surely written the most important novel of this era. ” ―The Paris Review

“Breathlessly brilliant … an extraordinary achievement of wit and imagination … this isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century.” ―The Irish Times

Ulysses has nothing on this … Once you get going, you’ll be too absorbed to stop.” Cosmopolitan

“Could possibly turn out to be the most important novel of the decade … Read Ducks, Newburyport. This is a novel for the idea of America today.” ―Los Angeles Review of Books

“Eccentric and recursive, its language eschews modernism’s tangled poetry for something more recognizably contemporary. The detritus of digital and popular culture is embedded, shard-like, in the mesh of the narrator’s ever-unspooling mind…Her heroine’s anger burns cleanly, refusing the easy conflagration of self-righteousness. The cumulative effect is devastating. This is a powerful and deeply felt indictment of American moral failure, a fearful, dazzling bloom of conscience…The narrative technique of Ducks, Newburyport is itself a kind of coping mechanism, a grand mimetic achievement. The novel’s length is, in the end, something of the point.” The Nation

“There are novels, and then there are extraordinary novels―truly unique, one-of-a-kind, sui generis―terms that are often used as clichés but I assure you not in Lucy Ellmann’s case, regarding her eighth novel, Ducks, Newburyport…a truly great American novel that catches our zeitgeist more accurately during the Trump years than anything else I have read…Ellmann has crawled into the horrifying times in which we live and written an explosive story that will engage you on every one of its 1000 pages.” ―CounterPunch

“It’s a book that quite restores our faith in the possibility of literary ‘greatness’ while questioning what forms such ‘greatness’ can or should take. It is certainly, in its humane range and weight, a Great American Novel. Is it any good? Oh my word, yes. Reading it at this point in times seems like an act of human solidarity, a commitment to the world of truth and reason.” ―Literary Review

“Brilliant ― and addictive…There have been comparisons to James Joyce’s Ulysses, but Ellmann is in a class by herself.” ―Associated Press

“Readers need not scoff this giant pie in one gulp. Sampled at regular intervals, it tastes sweeter. The sheer ingenuity of Ms Ellmann’s wordplay, the fabulous profusion of her recipes, catalogues and inventories, from a freezer’s contents to confectionery brands, imbue every passage with fun as well as a sardonic poetry.” ―Economist

Ducks, Newburyport is a menacing novel, a masterpiece of precision and endurance. This is the sort of book you’ll pick up and be baffled for the first 10 or 20 pages, but by the 30th page, you’ll be home.” ―Thrillist

“Ducks is a technical masterpiece and kind of literary manifesto…a staggeringly provocative work of genius.” ―Toronto Star

“Ducks, Newburyport is a complex book about a complicated time. It reads like an outpour of humanity beckoning to be heard.” ―Electric Literature

“Resplendent in ambition, humour and humanity … a lifetime of memories hoarded and pored over, like the family heirlooms the narrator and her husband have inherited along with all the joy and desolation contained within them … In Ducks, Newburyport Ellmann has created a wisecracking, melancholy Mrs Dalloway for the internet age.” ―Financial Times

“Perhaps the most intensely real depiction of the life of the quotidian mind I’ve ever witnessed… what Ducks [Newburyport] amounts to is one great trauma diagnosis for the entire country…It’s a colossal feat.” The Spectator

“A book about a mother’s love, but also about loss and grief, and anxiety dreams about Donald Trump, and despair about mass shootings … It is also a catalogue of life’s many injuries and mishaps … and of the simple joys and consolations of memory and imagination. [A] triumph.” ―The Guardian

“Epic.” ―Associated Press

“A jaw-dropping miracle.” Library Journal (starred review)

“A remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds … brilliant.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Mesmerizing, witty, maximalist…a bravura and caring inquiry into Earth’s glory, human creativity and catastrophic recklessness, and the transcendence of love.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“In Ducks, Newburyport the invisible expropriation of women’s domestic labour is tied to the despoiling of the environment and the macho degradation of the public sphere. But this is to suggest the novel can be boiled down to one particular theme, when its entire premise refuses any kind of summary. In reading Ducks, wonder gives way to frustration, which gives way to wonder again, until finishing becomes a kind of contemplative vigil – an exercise in dedication…Ducks is asking us to imagine what a total, unboundaried empathy with another person could feel like.” New Statesman

“This is one of the most bonkers, but absolutely brilliant, novels I have ever read…by turns poignant, funny, repetitive, poetic, banal and wise…this is a brave and bracing book for both author and publisher to have ­produced, and in the sheer commitment it demands of the reader is a brilliant antidote to the simplistic realm of clickbait, acronyms and sloganeering that the novel describes and critiques so well. Bravo!” The Tablet

“A wildly ambitious and totally unique masterpiece of the kind that doesn’t frequently appear in contemporary fiction…Once or twice while reading a novel, you might encounter an image in passing that suddenly knocks you out of the book and into a dreamy state, a little detail that jumps out at you and consumes your attention for a moment. This happens so often in “Ducks” that reading the book can be like a collection of immediately interesting objects, like that specific kind of American home so stuffed with objects that every moment is one of discovery. The material culture of American life is splayed across these pages.” Michigan Daily

“Innovative, intelligent, and simply extraordinary.” ―Lit Hub

“A wildly ambitious and righteously angry portrait of contemporary America.” ―The Observer

“It is a soaring example of how a gifted writer can spin one sentence into a complete, immersive story.” Financial Times

From the Back Cover

WINNER OF THE 2019 GOLDSMITHS PRIZE
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 BOOKER PRIZE
A NEW YORKER BEST BOOK OF 2019
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2019
A TIME MUST-READ BOOK OF 2019
A WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE WORK OF FICTION 2019
A CHICAGO TRIBUNE BEST BOOK OF 2019
A GLOBE & MAIL BOOK THAT SHAPED 2019
A BOOK RIOT BEST BOOK OF 2019
A TIMES CRITICS’ TOP BOOK OF 2019
A TORONTO STAR TOP TEN BOOK OF 2019

Baking a multitude of tartes tatins for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing?

With a torrent of consciousness and an intoxicating coziness, Ducks, Newburyport lays out a whole world for you to tramp around in, by turns frightening and funny. A heart-rending indictment of America’s barbarity, and a lament for the way we are blundering into environmental disaster, this book is both heresy—and a revolution in the novel.

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About the Author

Lucy Ellmann’s first novel, Sweet Desserts, won the Guardian Fiction Prize. It was followed by Varying Degrees of Hopelessness, Man or Mango? A Lament, Dot in the Universe, Doctors & Nurses, Mimi. Her short stories have appeared in magazines, newspapers and anthologies, and she has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Independent, Independent on Sunday, Times Literary Supplement, Telegraph, New Statesman and Society, Spectator, Herald, Scottish Review of Books, Time Out (London), Art Monthly, Thirsty Books, Bookforum, Aeon, The Evergreen, and The Baffler. A screenplay, The Spy Who Caught a Cold, was filmed and broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK. She edits fiction for the Fiction Atelier (fictionatelier.wordpress.com), and abhors standard ways of teaching Creative Writing, which she considers mostly criminal. Though American by birth, she lives in Scotland.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

When you are all sinew, struggle and solitude, your young – being soft, plump, vulnerable – may remind you of prey. The damp furry closeness in the crowded den sometimes gave her an over-warm sensation akin to nausea, or boredom. Snaking her long limbs as far as space permitted, she longed to be out on her winding path, ranging wide in search of deer. In her dreams she slaughtered whole herds. She sought that first firm clasp on a stag’s neck, the swift parting of its hide, her mouth filling at last with what was hot and wet and necessary.

For all of life is really recoil and leap, leap and recoil.

Alertness was her new mode, but the cubs’ easy slumber was contagious. To be woken, biffed in the face by the paw of a sleeping kitten. 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.

For the first week they were sprawling, crawling mush to her, demanding gentleness, forbearance, cleanups. The air shook with the vibrations of her purr. She learnt to maneuver her way round their wriggling forms with all kinds of fancy new steps. The more they squirmed, the more adroitly she had to dodge them.

She never left them for more than half an hour. The mere thought of the kittens bleating and scrabbling around back in the den diminished her resolve, made her less surefooted, ruined her joy in the kill. She went hungry, even sank to eating snowshoe hares that ventured near the den. And, once, a disappointing goosander, all feather, feet, beak and bone.

Her infant cubs, drifting back to sleep midway across each other’s backs, never knew how long she was gone, or how far from them she roamed. She might still be inside the den somewhere, just an inch out of reach. In hope, they dragged themselves over to the wall like legless seal pups, their short stubby tails nothing like the muscly ropes they would later become. Little more than mush, they toured the den in slow circles, chirping enticingly, feeling out for any sign of her, just the tip of her giant paw or long whiskers. Longing for her warmth, her tongue, her strong sleek rump, they sought her with determination, for they too were hunters, and brave. Too brave to despair.

*

The fact that the raccoons are now banging an empty yoghurt carton around on the driveway, the fact that in the early morning stillness it sounds like gunshots, the fact that, even in fog, with ice on the road and snow banks blocking their vision, people are already zooming around our corner, the site of many a minor accident, the fact that a guy in a pickup once accidentally skidded into our garage, and next time it could be our house, or a child, Wake Up Picture Day, dicamba, Kleenex, the fact that a pickup truck killed Dilly, the fact that she’d successfully dodged cars for three whole years, the fact that she knew all about cars, but during that time the traffic grew, the fact that it’s crazee now, the fact that after Dilly got killed, the kids painted a big warning sign with a big black cat on it and stuck it right by the fence, but nobody notices it, the fact that they’re all going too fast to see it, When the cat died we had catnip tea , the fact that failure to yield causes one in five accidents in Ohio, 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, the fact that eleven percent of Americans carry on driving when the fuel-tank-empty light comes on, the fact that, boy, you’d think it’d be more like eighty percent, Ronny, chicken feed, the fact that there are macrophages, the fact that I dreamt I flew all the way to India to get a teaspoon of cinnamon but when I got home I realized I needed flaked almonds too, security, holding pattern, go figure, not in my backyard, the fact that we have to do our taxes and try to remember every little bit of income and expenditure, the fact that there was more of the latter than the former, Family Dollar, Baker’s IGA, password, username, “Your card is now active and ready to use,” the fact that not only do we have to calculate our income and expenditure but we gotta figure out how to get more money, and keep on getting money till we’re dead, Medicare For All, the fact that by the time Leo’s old enough to get Social Security it probably won’t even cover the price of a ham sandwich, much less a bottle of wine, the fact that we’re in for a wineless old age, oi veh, OJ, the fact that Leo has to go to Philly tomorrow and I’m not so good on my own, the fact that Ben knows so much for such a little kid, maybe too much, the fact that he says drugs work on a molecular level that can be assessed using logarithms and Schild Curves, but I just pop ’em and leave the rest to chance, breakfast, alarm clock, laundry, Spinbrush, the fact that we have to have a cocktail party and I don’t know what to wear, the fact that the only fun part is deciding on the canapés, cocktails, cock-a-doodle-do, cock, oh my word, the fact that words just pop into my head like that, dear me, the fact that I’ve got to get the dough going for the cinnamon rolls, the fact that at least we’re not having any more dinner parties, the fact that I put my foot down there, Your feet’s too big , feat of strength, footloose and fancy-free, the fact that our parties are always a big flop anyway because the kids come down in the middle in their onesies and kill all conversation with cuteness, the fact that they look like polar bear cubs and they know it, the fact that sometimes they end up serving the drinks too, the fact that I don’t know what Prof Pranump would make of that, especially since she’s teetotal, tea, Triscuits, Ritz crackers, Saltines, Fritos, Doritos, Frito-Lay, Planters peanuts, Blue Diamond smoked almonds, Prohibition, Some Like It Hot, the fact that soon polar bears and walruses will have nowhere to go, because the polar ice is melting, cheese and pineapple on sticks, cheddar cheese logs, school bus, ground cardamom, dried cherries, zest, the fact that walruses can swim for four hundred miles, sure, but not forever, for Pete’s sake, the fact that animals don’t pride themselves on irrationality the way we do, the fact that, according to Ben, half the mammals on the planet will disappear by 2050, two hundred species a day or something like that, the fact that Ben says everybody on earth will soon be starving or suffocating or dying of SARS or Ebola or H5N1, the fact that H5N1 only has to mutate a few more times and we’re all goners, so maybe it was all for nothing, human achievement, but before that happens, we still have to do our taxes, and Leo needs to fix the garage door, the fact that it keeps sticking, missing button, bathroom grouting, the fact that Stacy would probably approve of a global pandemic, as long as it included us, her nearest and dearest, the fact that I don’t know why we released our poor little terrapins into the pond at Northwestern, the fact that we thought they’d be happy there, free, the fact that nobody ever told us they were tropical terrapins, the fact that we actually thought they’d like swimming free, in that freezing cold pond, the fact that I saw a dead dog with rabies there once, near the pond, so theoretically our turtles could have gotten rabies first, before they froze to death, the fact that we weren’t much good as pet owners, I guess, the bumblebee at Bread Loaf, the fact that what we liked best was going to the Big Building, where Daddy worked, because sometimes you got a free pencil, the fact that we loved climbing on the big painted rock outside, the fact that there was this great big boulder right in front of the building, the fact that I don’t know if somebody dragged the thing there or it was just there when they built the university and they couldn’t get rid of it, the fact that the paint was interestingly chipped and you could see how many layers it had, blue, red, white, yellow, green, Chris Rock, the fact that I think they painted it a new color every year or so, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the fact that Mozart had a starling, the fact that female starlings sing too, not just male starlings, murmurations, Ohio Blue Tip matches, phone call, a big ask, the fact that I don’t know where my cellphone is, the fact that I never know where it is, the fact that cellphones are always trying to escape their owners, the fact that there are earthquakes and tornadoes and tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, the fact that where did I see that red velvet cushion with gold trim, Gillian’s tall bird with sequins, felt and sequins, Christmastime, alone with Mommy in their bedroom at twilight, twi-night double header, sidewinder, sidecar, sidelines, left field, the fact that Stacy never mentions Frank, well, not to me anyway, Rex the Walkie-Talkie Robot Man, the fact that I don’t think she misses him at all, Reader’s Digest, Hardee’s on 2nd Street, Arby’s, Hy-Vee, Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom in the late afternoon, the fact that I always liked sequins on felt, the fact that I don’t think Stacy minds having a stepdad at all, the fact that these days most kids have half brothers and sisters, so they must be pretty used to it, 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, Tylenol, Bayer, Anacin, Safe Owl, Eagle Brand, Jolly Green Giant, Land O’ Lakes, Lucerne, Sealtest, Clover, Blue Bonnet, Half ’n’ Half, Snyder, VanCamp, Wish-Bone, French’s, Skyline, Empress, Gerber, Nabisco, Heinz, Kraft, Quaker Oats, Sunkist, Purina, Vlasic, Oreos, Shredded Wheat, Arm & Hammer, Jell-O, Pez, Sara Lee, Chock Full o’ Nuts, Libby, 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” . . .

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WINNER OF THE 2019 GOLDSMITHS PRIZE SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 BOOKER PRIZE A NEW YORKER BEST BOOK OF 2019 A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2019 A TIME MUST-READ BOOK OF 2019 A WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE WORK OF FICTION 2019 A CHICAGO TRIBUNE BEST BOOK OF 2019 A GLOBE & MAIL BOOK THAT SHAPED 2019 A BOOK RIOT BEST BOOK OF 2019 A TIMES CRITICS’ TOP BOOK OF 2019 A TORONTO STAR TOP TEN BOOK OF 2019 Baking a multitude of tartes tatins for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing? With a torrent of consciousness and an intoxicating coziness, Ducks, Newburyport lays out a whole world for you to tramp around in, by turns frightening and funny. A heart-rending indictment of America’s barbarity, and a lament for the way we are blundering into environmental disaster, this book is both heresy―and a revolution in the novel.

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