Summary and book reviews of Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson

Damnation Spring

by Ash Davidson

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson X
Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson
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  • Published:
    Aug 2021, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Herschbach
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About this Book

Book Summary

An epic, immersive debut, Damnation Spring is the deeply human story of a Pacific Northwest logging town wrenched in two by a mystery that threatens to derail its way of life.

For generations, Rich Gundersen's family has chopped a livelihood out of the redwood forest along California's rugged coast. Now Rich and his wife, Colleen, are raising their own young son near Damnation Grove, a swath of ancient redwoods on which Rich's employer, Sanderson Timber Co., plans to make a killing. In 1977, with most of the forest cleared or protected, a grove like Damnation—and beyond it 24-7 Ridge—is a logger's dream.

It's dangerous work. Rich has already lived decades longer than his father, killed on the job. Rich wants better for his son, Chub, so when the opportunity arises to buy 24-7 Ridge—costing them all the savings they've squirreled away for their growing family—he grabs it, unbeknownst to Colleen. Because the reality is their family isn't growing; Colleen has lost several pregnancies. And she isn't alone. As a midwife, Colleen has seen it with her own eyes.

For decades, the herbicides the logging company uses were considered harmless. But Colleen is no longer so sure. What if these miscarriages aren't isolated strokes of bad luck? As mudslides take out clear-cut hillsides and salmon vanish from creeks, her search for answers threatens to unravel not just Rich's plans for the 24-7, but their marriage too, dividing a town that lives and dies on timber along the way.

Told from the perspectives of Rich, Colleen, and Chub, in prose as clear as a spring-fed creek, this intimate, compassionate portrait of a community clinging to a vanishing way of life amid the perils of environmental degradation makes Damnation Spring an essential novel for our time.



Rich

He lay for a moment, Colleen's arm draped over him, heavy with sleep: three thirty a.m. on the dot, his body its own alarm clock. He held his breath, trying to slip free without waking her, but the moment his feet touched rug, she sat up. He groaned, getting his shirt on. His back ached from carrying Chub up to the 24-7 yesterday.

"Want me to walk on it?" Colleen asked.

"Maybe tonight."

He rolled his shoulder, laced up his boots. Out back, he let Scout off his chain and loped up the hill after him, into the white dark. His headlamp turned fog to gold. His heart knocked at his ribs. Like some young buck sneaking off to the joyhouse.

I'll think about it, he'd promised Jim Mueller. True to his word, Rich had thought of little else. The kitchen light glowed in the fog behind him, Colleen getting the percolator going, cracking eggs, dropping store bread into the toaster. She wanted another kid so bad it hurt to look at her. He longed to tell her, to roll the plan he'd been drawing up in...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Lark says of Rich, "Not a lot of guys are born to do something." What is Lark referring to? In your opinion, what role does a sense of "destiny" play in Rich's decision to take a risk on 24-7 Ridge?
  2. Consider the role Daniel played in Colleen's young adulthood. Why does she feel drawn to him when he first returns to Klamath? To Colleen, what does Daniel represent in her life?
  3. In the beginning of the novel, Colleen is reeling after her latest miscarriage and feels resentful of her sister, Enid, who now has six children—including her youngest, the miraculously docile Alsea. How does Colleen's notion of Enid as the luckier of the two become more complicated as the novel progresses? By the end of the novel, how has the sisters' ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, Davidson was born in the region where Damnation Spring takes place, and her familiarity with the area shows in the way she brings her setting to life with vivid details that evoke a strong sense of place. Pitch-perfect dialogue makes her characters feel real, and intricate depictions of the logging industry deftly convey the realities of living and working in timber country. Davidson is particularly adept at writing about the natural environment. Lush descriptions capture the magic of the landscape...continued

Full Review Members Only (892 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Herschbach).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[A] vivid portrayal of the land and its people, a snapshot of a not-so-distant time, but it also digs into the gnarled history of the place. And it's a glorious book — an assured novel that's gorgeously told...This is a lot of material to marshal, but Davidson skillfully assembles it in a narrative that seamlessly flows between tense scene and quiet moment; her short chapters work in a broad range of characters, from kindhearted old-timers to less-than-compassionate henchmen.

Lithub
[An] ambitious, assured debut...a devastating page-turner with a love story at its center.

VOGUE.com
Pitch perfect...an unforgettable portrait of the very real consequences that environmental decay can hold, for nature and humanity alike.

San Francisco Chronicle
[An] astonishingly polished and immensely affecting debut novel...What makes Damnation Spring such a knockout — and so devastating to stomach — is Davidson's mature grasp of the precarity of life and the complexities of the human condition. It's the Gundersons' fierce love for each other and unwavering resilience despite multiple betrayals and near unshakeable losses that transform the book from a treatise on the dangers of an unfettered industrial complex and the impacts of climate change into a prescient and deeply felt novel about (mostly) good people just doing their best to survive.

Washington Post
Damnation Spring joins Richard Powers's The Overstory and Annie Proulx's Barkskins in a growing collection of epic novels about our interactions with trees...[it] offers that rare opportunity to become part of a small community and move among its members until their hopes and fears seem as real as our own. By the end, I felt both grateful to have known these people and bereft at the prospect of leaving them behind.

Publishers Weekly
[I]mpressive...The depiction of ordinary people trapped by circumstances beyond their control makes for a heart-wrenching modern American tragedy.

Booklist
Struggles and heartbreaks play out on the richly rendered backdrop of a community on the brink of major change.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] savvy debut...Thematically, it's a strong work of climate fiction, but it's rooted in age-old man-versus-nature storytelling. An impressively well-turned story about how environmental damage creeps into our bodies, psyches, and economies.

Library Journal (starred review)
Davidson's riveting page-turner reveals one harsh reality after another, with no happy ending. The stakes are high, loyalty vanishes, and family ties mean nothing. A strong writer to watch.

Author Blurb Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
In her astonishingly accomplished first novel, Ash Davidson reminds us that we are never more profoundly shaped by our environment than when we destroy it. Nearly every page left me in awe.

Reader Reviews

Lani

An environment of our times
How does a debut author write a novel so self assured and heavily researched, while highlighting characters and families that are so obviously blemished ? Davidson has done this and more with her quietly empathetic look at loggers ,protestors, and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Poison from the Sky in Oregon

Crop dusting aircraft disseminating mist over cropsIn Ash Davidson's Damnation Spring, residents in a sparsely populated Northern California logging enclave in the late 1970s face a disturbing epidemic of miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects and other ailments linked to the local timber company's use of herbicide sprays. While the specific location, people and events chronicled in the book are fictional, Davidson's inspiration comes from real-life events that occurred in Northwest logging communities such as the Alsea Valley on the central Oregon coast, site of the Siuslaw National Forest and extensive tracts of privately owned timberland.

Like the characters in Damnation Spring, Alsea residents began noticing a proliferation of miscarriages and birth defects in the 1970s, including...

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    "The best novel ever written about trees, and really just one of the best novels, period."
    —Ann Patchett

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