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    Editors’ Picks: Damnation Spring

    Davidson’s debut novel asks what it means to care for one’s family, one’s neighbors, and the natural world – when those priorities collide.

    By Tsh Oxenreider

    February 18, 2023

    Beginning near the end of summer in 1977 and chronicling the following twelve months, Ash Davidson’s debut novel Damnation Spring explores the Northern California logging industry and the generations of residents it has affected. Told through the perspective of numerous narrators, this panoramic narrative offers its readers an intimate look at what it means to care for one’s family, one’s community of neighbors, and the natural world – and the tension of doing so when those priorities collide.

    Rich, one of the primary narrators, is a fifty-something, fourth-generation logger willing to use his lifelong knowledge of the forest to scale redwoods. Colleen, another narrator, is his considerably younger wife who has struggled with multiple seemingly inexplicable miscarriages. In her work as the community midwife, she begins to question whether the logging industry’s use of herbicide is associated with the ever-increasing number of miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects among her neighbors. When a tense relationship from her past barrels into her present with new information and research into the hidden tactics of her husband’s industry, Colleen is torn between her longing for more children and her sincere desire to not undermine Rich’s vocation.

    As the chapters unfold, switching between narrators in time-stamped journal entries, readers enter into a tale of spousal infidelity replete with dramatic irony, as both characters keep secrets and withhold truths. As Rich and Colleen struggle with the heaviness of real life, some levity is afforded through the occasional narrations of their five-year-old son with his observations about his dog, his bullying cousin, the new world of kindergarten, and the perplexing grownups around him.

    Through recounting the quotidian struggles of blue-collar family life, Damnation Spring ultimately asks perennial questions: What does it mean to love well? How do boundaries in relationships of all sorts – marital, parental, sororal, communal, vocational – help a community flourish? And where is the line drawn between stewarding your household and prioritizing the well-being of the natural world? These questions are grounded in the concretely political and assuredly controversial topics of logging, shady business tactics, and the imprudent use of untested, manmade chemicals.

    Damnation Spring is evocatively written, with wistful storytelling. The use of multiple narrators, a trope often sloppily used, is effectively employed in this case. Davidson’s subject matter, vocabulary, dialogue, and characters are Steinbeckian, reminiscent of the ranch hands in Of Mice and Men or the migrant workers in The Grapes of Wrath, with language just as salty.

    This story seems partially to be an homage to Davidson’s upbringing in the woods of Northern California. Her knowledge of the land and culture serves her well as an authoritative bard of a fictional story set in a very real place, without feeling either preachy or activistic. A holiday beach read this is not, but when approached as a work of fiction that can make its readers wiser, Damnation Spring is effective, and its surprise ending will leave readers feeling unexpectedly hopeful.

    Contributed By TshOxenrieder Tsh Oxenreider

    Tsh Oxenreider is the author of several non-fiction books, including At Home in the World, Shadow & Light, and Bitter & Sweet. A long-time podcaster, she currently co-hosts the show A Drink With a Friend and writes the popular Substack newsletter The Commonplace.

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