Undone by motherhood, judged by her husband, thirty-two-year-old Rachel Clayborne flees with her baby in the middle of the night for the one place on earth that’s been her refuge: her grandmother’s lakehouse in northern Wisconsin. Hoping to reconnect with a former, healthier self, she instead faces a confused and dying grandmother, her ever-present nurse who seems bent on thwarting each of Rachel’s desires, and a changed ex-boyfriend—her first and most passionate love. As a constant rain threatens the nearby dam, Rachel struggles to discern what’s happened to the past, who she’s become, and what kind of a life she will make for herself now—one that clings to ghosts or opens bravely to a wild new geography.
From the acclaimed author of Nina: Adolescence and The Priest’s Madonna comes a gripping new novel that depicts the transformative power of motherhood with honesty, wit, and compassion.
*Shortlisted for the Sarton Women's Book Award
*Finalist for the Siskiyou Prize in New Environmental Literature
Praise for After the Dam:
Taut, beautifully-written, and suspenseful, this resonant feminist drama eschews easy answers. A page-turner of the highest caliber.
Set against a compelling environmental backdrop, Hassinger's characters wistfully grasp at the glow of the past, shield themselves from the blinding light of the present, and seek out spiritual maps that can guide them through a new narrative about their future. . . . deft . . . No character is without a deeply divided and flawed outlook, and Hassinger delivers a comprehensive perspective on the human condition. . . . In Hassinger's world, life sculpts us the way a river carves its way through the land, and she delivers a powerful meditation on what happens when that river is artificially dammed, literally and metaphorically.
--Green Mountains Review
Marvelous . . . contains intriguing traces of family saga and love story . . . layered . . . an often lyrical elegy to the natural world that raises environmental and feminist questions about boundaries of property and self, the reconciliation of love and principles, and the limits of our ability to protect others. . . . While Hassinger’s characters are sharply drawn and complex, even more extraordinary is her ability to write lovingly about the natural world with details that resonate against her characters’ own dilemmas. . . . moving and satisfying . . . assured and graceful.
Hassinger has written the playbook for what the future looks like when we fail to consider the bigger picture. . . . multidimensional.
A consistently compelling and deftly crafted novel with an underlying message about the transformative power of motherhood, After the Dam reveals author Amy Hassinger as an impressively skilled storyteller of the first order. This is a novel that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. After the Dam is strongly recommended for personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections.
Forces of nature - big water and big love - come together in this unforgettable literary page-turner. Amy Hassinger has woven a tale out of the very earth where the Ojibwe live. Her protagonist - Rachel - is a lover, mother, and activist, a woman of our time on a hero's journey toward wholeness.
--Patricia Henley, National Book Award Finalist, author of Hummingbird House
This book does what my favorite books always do: grab the reader with tautness and fierce intelligence, so that even the quiet drama of it gets pulled into the page-turning qualities of the narrative. I could say, Read this book. Instead I'll say, Start this book. You won't stop reading until its terrific ending.
--Leigh Allison Wilson, author of Wind and From the Bottom Up
A dam built of dirt may give way to the force of water, and a marriage built on convenience may give way to the force of desire. In this compelling novel, the heroine’s disruptive desire is not only for sex, that staple of human stories, but also for a home place and a purposeful life. The place she chooses has been loved and cared for by several generations of her own family, and for many more generations by the native people who call themselves Anishinaabe. How to reconcile rival claims to the same homeland? How to reconcile the needs of her infant daughter and her dutiful husband with her own need for self-fulfillment? Amy Hassinger poses the questions vividly, without pretending there are easy answers.
--Scott Russell Sanders, author of Earth Works: Selected Essays
Amy Hassinger's elegiac novel about the shifting, elusive nature of family and love made me feel, while reading, as if my heart were pumping inside the author's fist. By the end, I was reminded by After The Dam and its characters that, to borrow a metaphor from the novel, we humans make our lives from sand, and sand will always slip.
--Susanna Daniel, author of Sea Creatures and Stiltsville
Told with heartbreaking clarity about what it means to be a mother – a complex and vulnerable human being with responsibilities to the past and the future, After the Dam is a story about discovering the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Amy Hassinger’s lyrical prose is a joy to read.
--Karen Shoemaker, author of The Meaning of Names
After The Dam weaves threads of connection between several generations of two families split by history's implacable seasons of growth, death, and renewal, as one generation passes onto the next the unresolved moral legacy left by the one before. Lush with description, After the Dam draws us beneath the surface of its characters' lives into an undertow of emotional conflict that makes you feel you are immersed in the minds and hearts of people you know. It’s a compelling read that’s hard to put down once you have been drawn into its tide.
--Richard Duggin, author of The Music Box Treaty
Intricate, delicate, lyrical, with a powerful sense of place, After the Dam is a generational saga that has the draw of a good mystery. It’s about the desire to go back and do things differently, make different choices, take a different path. And each character’s individual choice, past and present, hugely impacts the lives of the others for better or worse. Amy Hassinger has written a spellbinding book that left me wishing for more.
–Patricia Lear, author of Stardust, 7-Eleven, Route 57 and So Forth
After the Dam begins with a phone call's unexpected news, a young mother’s drive through the night with her infant in tow, and then the arrival at a family farm that offers multiple hidden pasts and more than one future. With an impressive empathetic skill, Amy Hassinger guides her conflicted characters through a complex path where personal regret and longing confront and echo the moral dilemmas of our country’s troubled history. This is a brave and beautifully written novel, one that offers quiet wisdom and no easy answers.
--Philip Graham, author of The Moon, Come to Earth
The women of two families, one Native, one White, and the piece of earth both feel they own are at the center of this lyrical and compassionate novel. A moving story about the consequences of historical amnesia and the healing power of mother love.
--Carol Spindel, author of Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy Over American Indian Mascots
The natural world is so much more than setting in Amy Hassinger’s new novel. River and forest, sturgeon and eagles, and three generations of conflicted and intertwined families join forces in this powerful story. Hassinger’s lush prose and nuanced themes of stewardship of our children, our selves, and the earth make this literary page-turner a must-read.
--Ellen Meeropol, author of On Hurricane Island