By Ash Davidson
Colleen and Rich Gundersen are raising their young son, Chub, on the rugged California coast. It’s 1977, and life in this Pacific Northwest logging town isn’t what it used to be. For generations, the community has lived and breathed timber; now that way of life is threatened.
Colleen is an amateur midwife. Rich is a tree-topper. It’s a dangerous job that requires him to scale trees hundreds of feet tall—a job that both his father and grandfather died doing. Colleen and Rich want a better life for their son—and they take steps to assure their future. Rich secretly spends their savings on a swath of ancient redwoods. But when Colleen, grieving the loss of a recent pregnancy and desperate to have a second child, challenges the logging company’s use of the herbicides she believes are responsible for the many miscarriages in the community, Colleen and Rich find themselves on opposite sides of a budding conflict. As tensions in the town rise, they threaten the very thing the Gundersens are trying to protect: their family.
This discussion guide was shared and sponsored in partnership with Simon and Schuster.
Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.
Lark says of Rich, “Not a lot of guys are born to do something.” What is Lark referring to? In your opinion, what role does a sense of “destiny” play in Rich’s decision to take a risk on 24-7 Ridge?
Consider the role Daniel played in Colleen’s young adulthood. Why does she feel drawn to him when he first returns to Klamath? To Colleen, what does Daniel represent in her life?
In the beginning of the novel, Colleen is reeling after her latest miscarriage and feels resentful of her sister, Enid, who now has six children—including her youngest, the miraculously docile Alsea. How does Colleen’s notion of Enid as the luckier of the two become more complicated as the novel progresses? By the end of the novel, how has the sisters’ relationship to one another changed?
“Probably the best novel I’ll read this year. It’s about work and love and characters who ring true.”
"A glorious book—an assured novel that’s gorgeously told... 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."
—The New York Times Book Review
"With great empathy and care, Davidson demonstrates how competing values play out against a backdrop of climate change in America."
—The New Yorker
“An ambitious debut [that] gains momentum as Davidson pulls together its foundational concepts— family, work, honor, and loyalty. Damnation Spring is full of surprises.”
"This story runs as clear as the mountain streams that draw salmon back to spawn... Damnation Spring joins Richard Powers’s Overstory and Annie Proulx’s Barkskins in a growing collection of epic novels about our interactions with trees."
—The Washington Post