“An Ocean Epic for a Plastic Age”
A review of
The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea…
by Donovan Hohn.
Review by Brent Aldrich.
Moby-Duck: The True Story
of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and
of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers,
Environmentalists, and Fools,
Including the Author,
Who Went in Search of Them.
Hardback: Viking Books, 2011.
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If I had to, I could probably count the number of times I’ve seen the ocean on one hand… Four. Throw in the Gulf of Mexico and I might need to use two hands. The ocean doesn’t have a pressing daily reality for me, despite it occupying the majority of the earth’s surface, and with water increasingly becoming a contested resource. And even for folks who might dwell daily beside it, it seems difficult to image the scale of the ocean, or of the complicated web of causes and effects – economic, political, environmental – that make water a pressing issue. And so the question: how to make something as large and complex as the ocean fathomable? Even more, how to make it a thing for which we can feel affection?
Art, I think, can do such a thing. By drawing upon as many layers of complexity and detail and signification as possible, and crystallizing these into a single image, art can make particulars stand in for and relate to the whole. Although I tend to think most often in terms of visual arts, literature, of course, does this as well. Donovan Hohn’s Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them, reads as such a work. Although a long journalistic essay at heart, Moby-Duck’s elaborate and beautiful narrative, well-developed characters, and attention to the details that make any particular place what it is, turn this book into a delightful read.