A mother and midwife inadvertently threatens the fortunes and livelihoods of her family and their neighbors after noticing an increase in local miscarriages and believes it's caused by the pesticides used by the Sanderson Timber Company, her husband's employer.
It’s 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 ... Davidson was born in Arcata, the small California city that’s near the novel’s setting, and she brings the area to life with a deep understanding of its particulars. She’s as observant as a hawk, picking up on details that distinguish this fogbound and muddy territory ... Davidson is also gifted at describing the intricacies of the logging industry, from the grueling labor itself to the hidden practices of shady businessmen. And she captures the beauty and majesty of the redwoods ... Some will no doubt read Damnation Spring as a commentary on the divisions that separate Americans today—on the fact that many place blind faith in what authority figures and corporations say is true, even if it hurts people’s interests; that many have an anti-intellectual distrust of mainstream media and established institutions, even in the face of science and reason. There are certainly parallels. But the book is getting at something more timeless and universal: It’s about human nature. It’s about our relationships to our loved ones and our communities, it’s about morality and greed, it’s about our understanding of and respect for the natural world ... 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.
To enter Damnation Spring, the debut novel by Ash Davidson, is to encounter all the wonder and terror of a great forest. Set amid the majestic redwoods of Northern California, the story runs as clear as the mountain streams that draw salmon back to spawn. Here is an author who knows and appreciates the land from every dimension — as nature, home, cathedral and cash ... This may be the most affecting aspect of Davidson’s novel, her tremendous empathy for the way a lost pregnancy, with all its mystery and guilt and sorrow, can fracture a good marriage ... a brilliantly balanced act of synchronous narration, never succumbing to the temptation of sentimentality or cuteness but always attendant to the child’s wonder ... But the greatest accomplishment of this absorbing novel is its capacious understanding of the competing values these folks hold. Nobody knows or loves the forest more than they do, but saving it could mean losing their jobs, their homes, their food — and Davidson is deeply sympathetic to their concerns, even their rage. In that way,Damnation Spring, 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.
... astonishingly polished and immensely affecting ... Davidson spent the first years of her childhood in Klamath. The seeds of her family’s connection to the community — and the 10 years she spent researching the book — are evident on every page. Based on interviews she conducted and the threads of real-life controversies in southern Oregon and Klamath (the Alsea studies, the first long-term research project that analyzed the effects of logging and forestry practices on salmon watershed populations in the Pacific Northwest, for example), the book is chock-full of pressing issues that still plague our rural areas today with nary a preacher pulpit or finger wag in sight ... 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.