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Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson
Literary fiction

Damnation Spring

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Ash Davidson, on your first book!

by Ash Davidson

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Quick take

A moving portrait of a family struggling to make ends meet in a logging town divided over the fate of its forest.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Rural_update

    Rural

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

Synopsis

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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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict infertility and miscarriage.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Damnation Spring.
Damnation Spring

July 30

RICH

Rich nabbed the week’s mail from Lark’s box and swung off the Eel Road, bumping down the muddy two-track past a pair of show toilets. Thorns screaked against the Ford’s side panels. Ferns tall as a man scrubbed the windows. The driveway was so overgrown Rich could barely read the signs.

DRIVE-THRU TREE! REAL GENUINE SASQUATCH! CLEAN PUBLIC RESTROOM!

The two-track dead-ended in Lark’s clearing, overlooking the river. Rich pulled up alongside the ancient International abandoned in front of the cabin, grass grown up through the truck’s rust-eaten hood. The old hog nosing around in the weeds behind the outhouse didn’t raise its head, but Lark’s two lazy mutts stretched and moseyed over as soon as Rich popped his door.

“Banjo! Killer!” Lark called from the porch, carved Sasquatches posted along the railing.

Fifty degrees and here was Lark in a stained undershirt, gray hair and beard wild to his shoulders, rolls of toilet paper stacked in a pyramid on the parked wheelchair. He used the thing like a glorified wheelbarrow. Rich snagged the foil pan and six-pack of Tab riding shotgun and climbed out.

Lark sat back in his carving chair. “Saturday, already?”

“How’s the shit business?” Rich asked, coming up the steps.

“Regular.”

Lark scraped a chip off a hunk of driftwood where a shaggy Sasquatch head emerged, like the wood had washed up with the Sasquatches already inside, and all he had to do was shave off the extra with the ease of a man taking the rind off an orange in a single long peel.

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Why I love it

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.

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Member ratings (8,122)

  • Briana D.

    Spring Creek, NV

    I’m a hot mess over here. This was long, slow to get into, had me stopping a few time because I didn’t want to know if something bad was going to happen, and then ugly crying at the end. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Rochelle T.

    Lake Stevens, WA

    I could hear my grandpa’s voice in several characters and I could feel the love he had for the woods and the resentment he had for “tree huggers”. Rich & Colleen’s commitment to family was admirable

  • Megin S.

    Lake Mills, WI

    I will carry this book in my heart for a very long while. Breathtaking imagery, endearingly flawed characters and a story that held my heart in my throat the entire 2nd half. I am broken... ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

  • Jessica Z.

    Saint Louis, MO

    This was so much more gripping that I expected. I couldn’t put it down! Each character was so complex, & this is a type of story that I’d never read. Loved the combo of family, environment, & history!

  • Bekah H.

    Lexington, NC

    I wish there was better option than “Loved”. I could not put this book down, and despite being a longer read, it sucked me in from the start. So many unexpected twists, this is a new favorite of mine!

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