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, by Donovan Hohn ff. The title seems to tell it all but it neglects just one or two items – like the hilarity, the quirky literary allusions, the deep dives into science, the Ahab-like insanity, and the tension between adventure and domesticity. Don Quixote meets Rachel Carson meets Captains Courageous meets Do De Ducky with Ernie. Not to mention Melville. And plastic.
First, I want to put this book into the context of my own pursuit of books by Friends Seminary authors. My friend Karen, who taught music at Friends in the seventies, is a close friend of Mary, the grandmother of an alum, Evan Drellich. Mary wanted Karen to be sure to tell me that Evan had written a book. She just thought I would be proud of him; she didn’t know about my little project. So I read Evan’s book and noticed Donovan’s name in the acknowledgements. As Evan’s English teacher, Donovan encouraged Evan to write. When I got Moby Duck, I was amazed to find that Evan had written an essay for Donovan’s English class, which turned out to be the genesis of this ambitious, obsessive quest.
But I digress. Donavan’s hunt takes him on all manner of watercraft – catamaran, container ship, sailboat, icecutter –off the coast of Alaska, Hawaii, and up in Baffin Bay. He gets access as a helper, a journalist, or just an observer, and with each trip meets a team of colorful characters. He even goes to China to see how the toys are manufactured.
The book tells you a lot about plastic ducks, but what I loved were the literary riffs. The Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens seemed to me a fitting image for how human jetsom transforms the seas (though it was about the land of Tennesee). In the epilogue, Donovan takes a scholarly look at the role of fatherhood in Moby Dick. The final scene shows Donovan and his young son throwing pinecones into the Hudson. Father and child imagining where the pinecones might go was the perfect fantasy ending to these real and fantastic adventures.