This article examines Lucy Ellmann's encyclopedic novel Ducks, Newburyport (2019) in the context of debates on modernist legacies, animal characters, and climate fiction. It pays particular attention to the text's signature strategy of including anecdotes about nonhuman creatures exposed to distinct forms of violence, anecdotes that reveal the concerns of the human narrator and her daughter but also highlight other animals, their unfamiliar phenomenologies, and their cautious cross-species partnerships. More specifically, the article tracks individual animals across the novel's pages and reconstructs their semiautonomous subplots as they unfold in a world characterized by animal cruelty, species extinction, and industrial labor. By forcing us to consider the perspectives of creatures like Jim, Mishipeshu, Audrey, and Gracia, Ellmann's narrative reminds us that the climate emergency does not just destabilize a shared geological environment but also endangers multiple and heterogeneous biological worlds.
The Mom and the Many: Animal Subplots and Vulnerable Characters in Ducks, Newburyport
Ben De Bruyn teaches English literature at UCLouvain, Belgium. He is the author of The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape (2020) and coeditor of Planetary Memory in Contemporary American Fiction (2018) and Literature Now (2016). He has also published several articles on climate fiction and animal narratives in journals such as Studies in the Novel and the Oxford Literary Review.
Ben De Bruyn; The Mom and the Many: Animal Subplots and Vulnerable Characters in Ducks, Newburyport. Genre 1 July 2021; 54 (2): 265–292. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-9263104
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