Monday, October 18, 2021

Damnation Spring is a Brilliant Debut by Ash Davidson

Ash Davidson says she spent ten years writing her very first novel “Damnation Spring.” The love and care she put into it shines on every page. This is one of the finest books I have read this year and I am a bit surprised that it seems to be A picture containing text, sign

Description automatically generatedflying under the radar. With so many authors addressing the climate change crises in their fiction, creating not so distant calamitous worlds, (think big Pulitzer Prize-winning names like Anthony Doerr’s “Cloud Cuckoo Land” and Richard Powers’ bewildering “Bewilderment”), few have returned to the roots of the problem or addressed the real and understandable schism that our country finds itself in now between the believers and the deniers.

Informed by her upbringing in Arcata, California, amid the redwood forests which fueled a logging industry that fed, clothed, and housed generations of blue-collar workers, Ms. Davidson breathes real life into the characters she creates and the land they live and work on. She ably elucidates the deeply complicated efforts of those futurists who, with the best of intentions, wish to save people by destroying them.

Rich Gunderson is a fourth-generation logger, skilled and sought after as a climber, a good man, a wonderful husband and father to Colleen and their little boy Chubb. But he has a blind side regarding his profession. He recognizes the fear in Colleen’s eyes every morning when she hands him his lunch sack and sends him off. He’s seen the wounds his co-workers have sustained. His own father died in the woods, and he wants more for Chubb. He also wants to own the land he works rather than enrich someone else.

Colleen’s dreams are simpler. All she wants is a large brood of kids underfoot every day. A born nurturer, Colleen has been plagued with miscarriages, has just buried her still born daughter, and serves as a de-facto midwife in the isolated mountains where it is difficult for women to get to a city doctor. She has born witness to so much sorrow, so many babies deformed or slow to develop. The native women say it’s just their lot in life. Until…

Daniel is a biologist, a brilliant student from the reviled Yurok tribe, once enchanted with Colleen, he left town the second he could, earned his degree, and would never have returned except that his mother is ill with cancer, and he’s been awarded a grant to study the water in the clear mountain rivers that run through the forests. Daniel remembers a time when the waters were pink and thick with salmon during their seasonal spawning before the logging companies began spraying defoliant to make way for trucking roads and access to the biggest trees.

The set up for conflict may seem obvious but the nuanced portrayal of the many actors in this tragedy is perfection. Each character has depth and substance even when behaving abominably. Colleen’s brother-in-law, Eugene, who betrays Rich fueled by greed and jealousy, and Lark, Rich’s seemingly down and out godfather, a widower who scratches out a living in junk after having been injured by falling limbs, have doppelgangers in every small town in America.

Damnation Spring” is a quintessential portrayal of white working-class angst, the despair of native American tribes who daily lose their habitat to industry, and the frustration of the educated class who may be good at pointing out problems but lack the empathy to follow up with solutions. This wonderful read should be on every book group’s radar this season!

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