After the Dam (Paperback)

By Amy Hassinger

Red Hen Press, 9781597097536, 344pp.

Publication Date: September 16, 2016

List Price: 16.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


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 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.

About the Author

Amy Hassinger is the author of Nina: Adolescence and The Priest’s Madonna. Her writing has been translated into five languages and has won awards from Creative Nonfiction, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared in numerous venues, including The New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, The Writers’ Chronicle, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches in the University of Nebraska’s MFA in Writing Program.

Praise For After the Dam

Taut, beautifully written, and suspenseful, this resonant, feminist drama eschews easy answers. A page-turner of the highest caliber.”
Kirkus Reviews,starred review

"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

"Forces of nature—big water and big love—come together in this 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, author of Hummingbird House, finalist for the National Book Award

“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 
and Night Sounds and Other Stories

“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
“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, andSo Forth
“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
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
“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
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 Why Won’t You Talk to Me? 
and The Music Box Treaty

Conversation Starters from

1. Rachel leaves home with her baby Deirdre in the middle of the night, as if she’s escaping something. What is she escaping? What does she hope to find at the Farm? Does she find it or not, by the end of the book?

2. Mothers appear throughout the novel, in different forms. Identify five different mother figures in the book, and discuss each of them. Which representations are positive? Which are negative? Which are mixed? Is the novel making a statement about motherhood? What might that be, if so?

3. Michael urges Rachel to see a therapist for what he believes might be post-partum depression. Rachel resists this. Who’s right? Why?

4. Rachel and Diane come into conflict with one another over the course of the novel. Why are they fighting and what are they fighting over? How does each of them approach the conflict? Do you identify more with one character or the other? Why?

5. Setting is a crucial element in After the Dam, most especially the motifs of water, woods, and the eagles. How do these motifs function in the novel? What associations do they take on as the story progresses?

6. Both the Old Bend Dam and the Farm are central symbols in the book. What does each thing represent to Rachel? To Joe? To Diane? To Maddy? Does this change by the end of the book? How?

7. Does the novel present a convincing argument for the removal of dams? Why or why not?

8. At one point in the book, Joe tells Rachel, “You can’t go back.” And yet he spends much of his time searching under the reservoir for a lost world, longing—arguably—for the past. How do you reconcile this? Is Joe living in the past? The present? The future? Does this change over the course of the book?

9. One of the novel’s epigraphs is a quote from the scholar Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” What connection do you see between the quote and the novel’s themes?

10. The novel’s ending leaves much to readers’ imaginations. What do you think happens beyond the last page? What will Rachel’s life look like in five years? Joe’s? Diane’s? Michael’s?