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Ducks : two years in the oil sands
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Library Journal Review
A coming-of-age graphic memoir from Beaton (King Baby), best known for her decade-long webcomic Hark! A Vagrant. After graduating from college burdened with student debt in 2005, a then-21-year-old Beaton left her hometown of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to embark upon what eventually became a two-year stint working a mining job in Northern Canada's Athabasca oil sands, a huge petroleum deposit underneath and surrounded by vast boreal forest just below the arctic tundra. This graphic novel is an account of Beaton's experiences in the oil sands, where her first job is as a tool crib attendant, in charge of distributing hardware while enduring a constant barrage of crude remarks, catcalling, and obvious objectification from her male coworkers. As she moves between job sites and positions, she discovers that sexism and misogyny run rampant in the fuel industry (where men outnumber women 50-to-1) and that filing a harassment complaint will only get her admonished for expecting special treatment. As this detailed memoir progresses, Beaton encounters a succession of idiosyncratic employees who open her eyes to the physical and mental tolls of performing grueling labor in harsh condition. She also comes to understand the environmental havoc wreaked by fossil fuel dependence, but it's her depiction of how a victim of long-term abuse internalizes their trauma so thoroughly that they lose any sense of their own worth, that lingers beyond the last page. VERDICT An unflinchingly honest coming-of-age memoir and unforgettable depiction of capitalism's dehumanizing effect on the individual.
Publishers Weekly Review
Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) delivers a masterpiece graphic memoir: an immersive, devastating portrait of the two years she worked at Fort McMurray and nearby oil sands in northern Canada. In 2005, Beaton, 21 and desperate to pay off her student loans, left her small Nova Scotia town for the booming wilds of an oil operation in Alberta. The human and environmental toll of energy dependence are painstakingly recorded on her Heart of Darkness--like journey: facing relentless sexism and misogyny (she estimates that men outnumber women 50 to 1 at the camps), Beaton moves through a series of gigs--doling out wrenches at "tool cribs," desk work in the supply office--and acutely feels the object of intense scrutiny; the crass remarks are endless, and at one point men line up around the building to get a look at the new girl. When hundreds of ducks become caught in a hazardous waste "tailings pond" around the time a coworker dies on site, Beaton begins to connect individual and global consequences. While she documents her own traumas, Beaton also steps back to observe how the isolation can transform ordinary people, remarking, for instance, that hearing catcalls delivered in the familiar accent of her Cape Breton home region is especially cutting. The homespun drawings and intuitive pacing capture both the dreariness and occasional splendor of this frozen world, with flashes of the author's trademark humor in the banter between her crusty coworkers. Beaton makes a shattering statement on the costs of ignorance and neglect endemic in the fuel industry, in both powerful discussions of its sociopolitical ramifications and her own keenly observed personal story. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (Sept.)
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