Damnation Spring - book cover
  • Publisher : Scribner
  • Published : 03 Aug 2021
  • Pages : 464
  • ISBN-10 : 1982144408
  • ISBN-13 : 9781982144401
  • Language : English

Damnation Spring


Named a Best Book of 2021 by Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times

"A glorious book-an assured novel that's gorgeously told." -The New York Times Book Review
"An incredibly moving epic about an unforgettable family." -CBS Sunday Morning
"[An] absorbing novel…I felt both grateful to have known these people and bereft at the prospect of leaving them behind." -The Washington Post

A stunning novel about love, work, and marriage that asks how far one family and one community will go to protect their future.

Colleen and Rich Gundersen are raising their young son, Chub, on the rugged California coast. It's 1977, and life in this Pacific Northwest logging town isn't what it used to be. For generations, the community has lived and breathed timber; now that way of life is threatened.

Colleen is an amateur midwife. Rich is a tree-topper. It's a dangerous job that requires him to scale trees hundreds of feet tall-a job that both his father and grandfather died doing. Colleen and Rich want a better life for their son-and they take steps to assure their future. Rich secretly spends their savings on a swath of ancient redwoods. But when Colleen, grieving the loss of a recent pregnancy and desperate to have a second child, challenges the logging company's use of the herbicides she believes are responsible for the many miscarriages in the community, Colleen and Rich find themselves on opposite sides of a budding conflict. As tensions in the town rise, they threaten the very thing the Gundersens are trying to protect: their family.

Told in prose as clear as a spring-fed creek, Damnation Spring is an intimate, compassionate portrait of a family whose bonds are tested and a community clinging to a vanishing way of life. An extraordinary story of the transcendent, enduring power of love-between husband and wife, mother and child, and longtime neighbors. An essential novel for our times.

Editorial Reviews

Named a Best Book of 2021 by Amazon, Kirkus, and BookPage

"Probably the best novel I'll read this year. It's about work and love and characters who ring true."
-Stephen King

"A glorious book-an assured novel that's gorgeously told... Redwoods have been plundered by humans, damaged in fires and taken down in floods, but they're also incredibly resilient. And as characters in Davidson's graceful rendering remind us, humans are equally resilient. After great loss, they, too, can keep growing."
-The New York Times Book Review

"With great empathy and care, Davidson demonstrates how competing values play out against a backdrop of climate change in America."
-The New Yorker

"[An] ambitious debut [that] gains momentum as Davidson pulls together its foundational concepts- family, work, honor, and loyalty. Damnation Spring is full of surprises."
-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"[This] story runs as clear as the mountain streams that draw salmon back to spawn... Damnation Spring joins Richard Powers's Overstory and Annie Proulx's Barkskins in a growing collection of epic novels about our interactions with trees."
-The Washington Post

"An incredibly moving epic about an unforgettable family."
CBS Sunday Morning

"[With] the page-turning urgency of a thriller…the novel tells many characters' stories-affirming, in the end, the strength of community. Davidson's prose is absolutely beautiful, every detail immersing us in this landscape fully and seamlessly as she reveals characters' tensions, longings, disappointments, and their attachment to the land. Damnation Spring is a must-read for environmentalists above all."
-EcoLit Books

"In her exceptional debut novel, Ash Davidson expresses the heart and soul of Northern California's redwood forest community."

"[A] powerful debut novel... [A] showdown as inevitable as a mudslide [propels] the community down a path as steep and treacherous as any logging road. It's a path Davidson portrays in exquisite detail... In Damnation Spring, giant trees are brought low by human machinations. Communities can be, too."
-The Boston Globe

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

"This debut novel drops readers into redwood country, where loggers tangle with ‘tree-huggers' and families eke out a living. Like her majestic settin...

Readers Top Reviews

The set-up for this story is a good one. Rich Gundersen has logging in his blood and spots an opportunity to preserve his way of life, and win his family extra security, by investing all their savings in acres of ancient redwood – but he doesn’t discuss it with his wife first. He and Colleen have one healthy child, but the return into her orbit of a former boyfriend, now an environmental scientist, leads her to wonder about a link between the numerous miscarriages she and neighbours have experienced and the chemical spray used by the company that employs her husband to suppress the brushwood that restricts access to the ‘big pumpkins’ they want to chop. She starts to help her ex gather evidence – but doesn’t get round to mentioning it to Rich. This is a beautiful book in so many ways, empathetic and well-written. Ash Davidson says it’s a story not about logging so much as herbicides (her ‘day job’ is in conservation). But it’s also a touching and wholly convincing portrait of a rock-steady marriage being eroded not just by private secrets but by commercial greed and outside forces. Where ‘Damnation Spring’ also scores is in the way it avoids a simple nature versus business confrontation by showing how intertwined are the daily lives of the working community in this part of Northern California and the policy issues surrounding the preservation of natural assets. The book does labour in places; there are clunky repetitions and in my view 40 pages or so could have been profitably lopped. Davidson took a decade to write it and may have outlasted her editors. For all that, the book’s heart is firmly in the right place without simplifying what is complex or coming across as preachy.
Jane G.
If you want a great book to read this summer, this is the one. I looked for other books by Ash Davidson to buy, but I couldn't find any. I promise, this book will not disappoint!
I can't say enough good things about this novel. It is just gorgeously written, and examines issues concerning human interactions with the natural world that are both very timely and also timeless. The characters are lovingly wrought, and readers are required, in the most tender way possible, to acknowledge the humanity in all of them. Put this book on the top of your reading pile!
This debut novel begins softly like a gentle breeze in the tree tops. The nucleus of the story contains Rich, a fourth generation logger, his younger wife, Colleen and a kindergartner son, Chub. Without telling his wife, Rich takes almost all of their savings and purchases about 300 acres of red wood forestland in the hopes of making millions to cushion his son's future. But dark clouds shadow these plans. Incessant rain makes the muddy roads trecherous and the loggers' work even more life-threatening. Colleen, a volunteer midwife, experiences her own eighth miscarriage and witnesses the birth of dead and deformed babies. Environmentalists block forest roads to prevent more red wood logging and draw a connection between chemical spraying to clear the forest undergrowth and the poisoning of drinking water. Could this be causing the increased rates of stillbirths, birth defects and cancer within the community? Local Native Americans from the Yurok tribe protest the destruction of their sacred homeland and salmon runs along the Kalmath River. In no time, a torrent of oposing emotions erupt at local government hearings. To the author's credit, there are heros and villians, victims and victimizers, greed and guile and winners and losers on all sides. The reader cannot help but realize, that the issues of environment and economic development and health and habitat are complicated. Davidson paints magnificent word pictures of the forest denizen, the misty mornings and the rainy season. In sparse language through their actions rather than their words, she plumbs the depths of the main charcters and those who come into their orbit. At the end, there is some sunlight peeking through the clouds to offer the reader hope for the endurance of the main characters as well as the red woods.
Marta MarczukBenjami
Although environmental stories are not my usual reads, I was intrigued by the premise from the opposite perspective. Instead of focusing on the “tree huggers” (which was the focus of my last environmental book), this one focuses on the working class loggers in the 1970s. Rich has been cutting down redwood trees as long as he can remember. Almost 50 now and after his younger wife’s miscarriage, he makes the decision to use their life savings to buy a huge section of land with the intention to profit off the cut redwoods. Unknown to him, his wife, Colleen, begins to question whether her miscarriage (and the seven previous ones which she kept a secret) were caused by the sprays used to keep the land free of weeds. Working in secret with her ex boyfriend, she begins to wonder whether the nose bleeds, cancers, and deaths are worth it trade off for the income Rich gets. The story is also told through Chub’s perspective. As their only kid, his chapters showcase his innocence in what’s going on around him. The synopsis that I provided should have really set the background for the story, but instead this plot lasted for over 70% of the novel. Every plot point that I mentioned kept getting repeated and it seemed that there was no escalation. You may be asking me what then was happening for majority of the book? Well, we really meet a lot of random and pretty asshole-ish characters. By a LOT, it honestly felt like every chapter a new character was interjected. I didn’t use the word introduced, because no introduction was ever given. They would just appear using logger jargon. Their whole family was also mentioned as if we should know who they are in relation to Rich or Colleen. I honestly wouldn’t be able to describe the other characters no matter how hard I tried (and trying to find them in the book would be impossible). There was also a weird focus on some storylines. Rich’s toothache was mentioned so many times for absolutely no reason. We’re given background on his previous dentist. We’re told the life story of the current dentist he refuses to see. We get a random chapter of him going to the dentist. It makes no sense. Additionally, there was a skull found very early on but I don’t think there was ever any conclusion to who that was or what happened. Overall, maybe the last 10% of this book actually felt like something was going on. I still don’t completely understand what’s happening with the land in the end (but I can’t say I ever knew what was going on with it). I might have set too high expectations for this and ultimately had to really push myself to read to the very end.

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