Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton

I have been following Kate Beaton and Hark! A Vagrant when it was still a Livejournal blog. I have loved her work and felt a kinship to her comics for many years now. I read both her children’s books. I was excited to read this graphic memoirs which I know she had been working on for over six years.

I am glad that more have discovered her talent with this work. It took me a few months to get it from the library because of the long wait list due to it being listed for and winning Canada Reads.

This graphic novel hit me like a bus. I knew it would be somewhat tough because the topic of the oil sands has been fraught in Canada for many years. However, I did not expect the trigger warnings of sexual assault, sexual harassment, misogyny, depression, loneliness, exploitation, classism, and more. My mental health has not been as great this year so I’ve been more sensitive to triggers.

Beaton described her experiences of depression, trauma, many aggressions that she went through working two years in the oil sands of Alberta. While she had some good moments and supportive relationships, Beaton and many people should not have had to lived in such a remote and disheartening conditions. The isolation caused many people – notably men- to become creeps, cheats, addicts, and accidental killers. Even so, Beaton is very humane and even at times, protective of these men.

I really felt Beaton’s loss in this book and her grief. In the afterword and in another article, she described her sister Becky’s cancer and passing. There was also a loss of Beaton’s innocence about the world. It showed a very different and darker side of Beaton that was not in her earlier work. This is reinforced by the fact that this period is where she started her lighter Hark! web comic.

While I did have these exact experiences, a lot of the book reminded me about when I was in my 20s. Beaton and I are of a similar age. Her experiences are much more fraught but I too remember being objectified and pursued because of circumstances, my ethnicity, or projected onto and not because I was genuinely liked. I knew that feeling that Kate described in the books. I’m grateful that I am in a loving partnership and count a great father and male friends who have mentored and supported me in recent years. However, this reminded me how jaded I felt by men in the past.

Like the author, I was a millennial from a working class family who struggled to find work in the aughts and early 2010s. I had to figure out how to make a living, pay off my student loan all the while doing something that I didn’t hate. This caused me great stress and anxiety. This quarter life crisis was largely influenced by growing up in the nineties and early aughts where we were told to go university and college. Then graduating with debt and very few job prospects in the 2008 Great Recession. A lot millenials should probably have been told to do a trade or community college or some other prospect other than get in debt for your university degree and hope for the best. I am in a much better place economically but it took me over seven years to figure that out. Only recently have I felt more secure in my career that I could stop “hustling” and take more time off. I have been burnt out by it too.

This book touched on many tough topics including a reflection about capitalism and climate change. There was a lot of exploitation. This book hit me personally. I cried a bit when I finished it. I felt for the author and it touched me deeply. I wouldn’t be able to read this again so even for a perfect book I don’t want to own it. It does make me want to revisit Hark! A Vagrant and I’ve considered buying a copy of that instead to support the author.

4.75/5 stars. Read June 23, 2023.

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