When 28,800 plastic bath toys are lost at sea, a journalist becomes obsessed with their whereabouts.
Donovan Hohn’s narrative about his monomaniacal quest for the elusive yellow duck(s) bobbing somewhere upon the intractable oceans is more than a little Melvillian. The plastic (not rubber) duckies that were cast so carelessly upon the waters are a symbol of our collective, all-consuming sin. Readers of this book will never again smile benignly at cloying little bath toys.
The plot of Moby-Duck (which has an epically long subtitle: “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”) revolves around the 1992 spill of 28,800 bathtub accessories from a massive container ship in the north Pacific, and the author’s quest more than a decade later to track their journey from China to purportedly pristine places like Hawaii and Alaska, and possibly through Northwest Passage to Maine. Will the author find one of these indestructible icons of domestic bliss on the bounding main, or along some secluded spit of sand, as other beachcombers have? Or will his odyssey end in failure, like that of the doomed Pequod?
A former school teacher, Hohn got the idea for the book from a student’s essay about the spill and toyed with the idea of writing about it from the safety of his home in New York City. His wife was expecting, after all. But he soon was consumed by the watery tale and the search for answers. So off he went, again and again. He would comb and help to clean up beaches in Alaska, which – despite being America’s “Last Frontier” – is awash in startling amounts of debris: fishing gear, bottles, cans and the rest of the relentless plastic flotsam of our ever expanding civilization. The author also trolled for plastic on the high seas, shoved off with scientists studying oceanic currents, and booked a cruise on a container ship like the one that disgorged all those duckies (beavers, frogs, and turtles spilled, too, but these, clearly, are less charismatic commercial litter).