A moving portrait of a family struggling to make ends meet in a logging town divided over the fate of its forest.
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Why I love it
Actress (Lovecraft Country), creator of Whatthechung.com
As a San Francisco native, I care a lot about redwoods, which is how I knew I would like this 500-page tome about trees before reading a single page. Immersive and deeply-researched, Damnation Spring is the kind of book you read slowly, savoring each sentence.
Logging is the only life that Rich Gundersen has ever known. For decades, his family has eked out a life in the backwoods of California by chopping down the highly coveted and bountiful redwood trees that have dotted the landscape for centuries. By 1977, most of those trees have been cut down or protected, so when Rich stumbles into the deal of a lifetime—a plot of land that has yet to be felled—he leverages his life savings and more to make it happen.
But life is changing in the quiet ridge that Rich and his family call home. The streams have been overfished and polluted, pesticides have poisoned the groundwater, and the beautiful redwoods have been all but chopped down, and activists—or “tree huggers,” as Rich and his co-workers have termed them—have become more vocal about the irreversible destruction that has sustained the town for so long. Most chillingly, a rash of miscarriages has occurred, leading folks like Rich’s wife, who has lost several babies, to suspect: Is something in the water?
With its flinty, detailed prose and a large cast of characters, Damnation Spring is a challenging read, but not a line felt out of place. My brain felt nourished by the book’s fastidious details—the author clearly did her homework on all those logging terms—and my heart swelled and then ached for Rich, his family, and the hardships they are forced to endure. This is a moving, brilliant story from a wonderful new writer to watch.
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.
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Council Bluffs , IA
This was so worth the read. It was beautifully written and I loved the characters. I became emotionally invested in the issues of the town because I was reading it while pregnant. Couldn’t put it down
Newport , OR
WARNING: this book will break your heart. It is such a good story but it’s sad. Reminded me of What Comes After and The Great Alone, where the landscape is an important factor. This could be the BOTY
Still thinking about this. I loved the characters and learned so much interesting history about the California redwoods and the logging industry. I wouldn’t say its slow, but not a page turner either.
Despite some mixed reviews on the internet, this book was really calling my name. While the first half did drag slightly, it allowed me to learn about a d become invested in the characters. Loved it.
I loved this book! Such an important read. Balancing the important environmental advocacy perspective and the impact logging has on native cultures with the impact advocacy has on logging communities
Yes, it moved slow, but that’s kind of the point. To stop and soak it all in, like the forest in the book. These characters were so well thought out — I just lament the ending. I still ask, why?
The beautiful cover was what first drew me to this book. The story did not disappoint! It was engaging, very well written and heartbreaking. I could easily envision the characters & scenery. LOVED
Such a beautiful book filled with rich character development. I thoroughly enjoyed how the environmental issues were told from a different perspective, it helped me try to put myself in their shoes!
Ms Davidson's DAMNATION SPRiNG is one of the best debut novels that I've ever read. The story is a compelling look at the Pacific Northwest's Redwood loggers, their families, and community in 1977.
A beautiful book. Despite the environmentalist message, it's not preachy. There are no heroes or villains, just real people navigating their real lives. I got very invested in the relationships.
Well written, learned a lot, loved the characters. Author’s writing style with chapter endings were a bit difficult to understand (seemed open ended), but once I got used to it, very good book.
Jersey City, NJ
Wow. A beautifully written story - an emotional rollercoaster, full of characters you grow to love, several you love to hate, and the heartbreak of watching as two sides fight over ancient lands
Such a beautiful book! It's a slow-paced book, but I couldn't keep it down for much time. Great character development, well researched and a great analysis of how environmental damage impact us
One of those books that leaves you truly *feeling* everything that’s written. The setting is idyllic and terrifying at the same time. The characters are so real and you feel their struggles.
Decatur , AL
Goodness. Never dreamed a book about trees would be so engrossing! I read every moment, wanting to get to the end and sad when it was done. I look forward to more books by this author.
Yorba Linda, CA
???? I loved this book. The end was heartbreaking. It is a slower build, which I normally don’t like, but it worked for this one. You needed that slow build to truly get invested.
AMAZING! I bawled my eyes out. Truly 3 dimensional characters that will stay with you forever. One of my new favorites. I hope everyone gives this book the chance it deserves
A lengthy, but beautiful story that has all the pieces you look for in a controversial topic. The writing was wonderful and had me fully cheering for both sides of the story.
This book took time to get into, but once I was in I couldn’t put it down. I got so invested into Colleen, Rich, and Chubb, and this has me crying at the end. So well done!
LOVED LOVED LOVED. WOWWWWWW. Literary depression and weeping on a scale from 1-10? This was a 5 million on that scale for me. Pick this up. This is the best I’ve read, yet.