It's the feeling of dread that stayed with me the most after reading this book. There's the boredom of a monotonous job, the incessant background noise of a male-dominated working environment, the friction of having to interact with people who don't respect you, the alien, dehumanizing landscape that's your home now and that you can't easily escape from.
Kate Beaton lays it all out patiently, meticulously painting a picture of the two years that she worked in the oil sands of Alberta. Her style of writing and drawing are understated, but the trauma she goes through is unmistakable. She's scolded for being "out of it" at work the day after. She tries to confide in some male friends but is met with cold indifference. The loneliness of it all is suffocating.
Beaton explicitly spells out the thesis of her work: this story is not one of "men bad". Most of the men at her workplace never interact with her in any way. Some are shown to be genuinely good people, bringing her home-baked cookies on a lonely Christmas eve, or giving her a poster-sized print of a photo of the northern light. Some are nice enough in private but turn into cowards in a group. Some maintain a friendly face in a group but turn into creeps in private. It's about what a working culture like this does to people, both to the women and to the men. It's about the betrayal she feels from the men that seem familiar, some old enough to be her dad, some that talk in the same accent as herself, some that have families at home. And yet.
It's also about what this heavy industry does to the Indigenous people of Canada, and to the land that was stolen from them. The callous indifference they are treated with is strikingly similar to what Beaton herself goes through.
"Ducks" is not an easy read, but it's a good one.