Review: Ducks, Newburyport, by Lucy Ellmann

ducks newburyport lucy ellmannRating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Literary Fiction

Goodreads

Ducks, Newburyport is told through the stream of consciousness of a housewife in Ohio. Her thoughts meander through her daily routine, baking pies, her four children, the current news, the state of the world and memories of her life. It’s a story that gets woven with every page, and as you are literally reading what goes through the mind of the main character for a thousand pages, it’s quite delightful that she’s funny and the book goes so seamlessly into more serious topics or random thoughts,.

It is incredibly difficult to rate this. At times, when it bore me a little, I wanted to give it 3 stars – then the next page I was in awe of this book, the intricate, rich inner life of our protagonist and the impressive writing style and want to give it 5 stars. In the end, I compromised with 4, although I have a feeling I will change it to 5 at some point.

I don’t know if I can say the book is too long – there are some parts where I thought it felt so, and I was getting a bit impatient, but in my opinion that is not what the book is trying to do, to give you only the information you need to “get” the character and move on with the plot. It’s rather that you’re supposed to immerse yourself in it for a while, in her thoughts, her problems, her anxiety and spiraling thoughts. If you like the voice of the main character, I don’t think you will mind the length of the book that much.

The chapters with the lioness were odd at first, but got me quite emotional by the end. I was almost sobbing during the last 50 or so pages of the book and had to contain myself at the dentist’s waiting room.

This is really, really brilliant. It’s a book you need to immerse yourself into and let the main character tell you her story little by little, in between thoughts about pies, deliveries, visits to the dentist, movies, news about shootings etc. Definitely not a book to rush through, not only because of its length or the very few paragraph breaks, but also because of the way it’s written – you can spend several pages reading about her opinion on cinnamon rolls and then suddenly you’re hit with an emotional scene with her mom. It’s also a very funny book, which I did not expect at all.

I said above that the book bored me a little, but let me clarify: it’s not a boring book at all. Of course some scenes resonated with me more than others, and I did not care much about the monologues on movies that I never watched and hardly know about at all, but that is an aspect of my own cultural upbringing versus the protagonist’s. There are lots of American events, news, movies etc. that I don’t know much about so of course it was harder to relate than it would’ve been if I were American myself. I think if you’re also not American it might be a little difficult to follow at times – although if you regularly read international news, then it’s probably just fine.

I think the term gets used too freely, but I honestly think Lucy Ellmann is a genius. This book really is a work of art.

14 thoughts on “Review: Ducks, Newburyport, by Lucy Ellmann

  1. Great review! I keep second-guessing that I actually want to read this because it sounds so overwhelming but every review I read seems mostly positive and then I get excited again. Your description of a stream of consciousness of a housewife’s meandering thoughts sounds like something I can definitely sympathize with (although I don’t bake very many pies!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Solid review! Other reviews I’ve read so far focus way too much on the stream of consciousness, and I always want to ask, well how were the other aspects too? The story/characters/narrator herself? So I’m glad you went into that!

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  3. Ah, excellent review, Naty! I’m so glad you liked this one, I needed someone else to join me in the Ducks fan club. 🙂
    You make a great point about the book being more about the immersive experience and what it is doing as a whole than about the individual moments, some of which are a bit boring, even as an American. I was so caught up in the narrator’s voice and what Ellmann was accomplishing with it overall that even though I didn’t love every single sentence the book REALLY worked for me. I sincerely hope this one makes the WP list, just because it deserves to, imo; I know not everyone will be happy with the thought of a book this long on the list, but it’s so good!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Emily! I completely agree. Even if not everything was resonating with me or if I agreed with her, or challenged me in some way, it was still very interesting to see her personhood and life story being constructed that was. Since we’re in the comments and nobody reads this far: what did you think of the ending???

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      • I really liked it! I felt bad for the lioness because she was trapped, even though she sort of had a happy ending. But I loved how everything came together for the narrator’s family! I mean, it was horrifying, but I appreciated how it tied so many of the threads of the book together. The narrator’s preoccupation with gun violence and her dislike of the delivery guy and the constant worrying about her children just all of a sudden seemed so much more valid and reasonable in that big scene in the kitchen. It seemed maybe a little over the top but I bought it. I liked how the narrator’s relationship with her daughter changed and how they were scarred but went on with their lives anyway, which I thought showed how disturbingly commonplace gun violence has become in America. I was wavering between a 4 and 5 star rating through most of the read, but the ending really worked for me and convinced me that Ellmann definitely knew what she was doing.
        How was the ending for you?

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