Leann A. (Springfield, IL)
Serena by Ron Rash
The quality of the writing is the only thing that saved this book for me. This story in a less capable writer’s hands would have been wholly unreadable for me. The main characters were cartoonish in their villainy and invincibility. Normally I am more than willing to suspend my disbelief when reading, especially for a writer of this caliber, but it helps if the characters are at least remotely sympathetic. Serena is loathsome in her complete lack of humanity and her husband is not much better.
If the body count hadn’t been so high and come so easily, if Mr. Rash had delved a little deeper into what makes Serena tick or if he hadn’t succumbed to such convenient plot devices as the one-dimensional, slavishly devoted hit man and his clairvoyant mother, I could have better enjoyed the beautifully written scenic descriptions and the unflinching documentation of the history of the logging industry and the devastation it wrought on the land and the people who worked it.
Gunta K. (Whitehall, NY)
A woman, tough, beautiful, cold and calculating
"Serena" by Ron Bash is a page turner. We first meet Serena as she gets off the train from Boston in the company of her new husband, George Pemberton. On the platform awaiting their arrival is a man with his pregnant daughter at his side. Gossip has it the young girl's child is George Pemberton's. Ensues a violent scene between one of Pemberton's hired men and the girl's father. At the end of this violent scene Serena informs the pregnant girl that from now on, she, Serena, will be the mother of any and all children George sires. This moment sets the pace for the unfolding story.
Life and work in a logging camp in North Carolina in year 1929 is hard and dangerous. The day by day work of loggers is fraught by constant threat of death from falling trees, catapulting frozen tree limbs in winter, runaway saws and a marauding panther. Nature in that vast wilderness is unforgiving. Serena rides among the loggers, shares meals, is constantly vigilant over their mistakes, has no mercy for anyone. A man hurt in a logging accident is sent home without pay.
She also relentlessly hounds the mother of her husband's illegitimate child, to the point where the young mother opts to leave North Carolina for fear of harm coming to her son from Serena.
Life in a logging camp of those days is described as incredibly full of squalor, hunger for whole families unable to buy food at the company store. Daily life of young girls working in the kitchens is full of fear since they are daily subjected to the whims of carousing men.
This book is mesmerizing in its subject and the manner in which this tale is told.
I recommend this tome because one is never bored throughout its 371 pages.
Teresa R. (Evansville, IN)
The first 100 pages of the book were very slow for me. I learned about the lumber business in 1929 which was educational, though not necessarily entertaining. After that, though, the action quickly picks up. Ron Rash is a great writer and a master of storytelling. This book is a tribute to greed, ruthlessness, and betrayal. It is beautifully written with incredible characters. I loved this story! Would have given it a 5 had it not been for the slow beginning. Read it- it is well worth the effort!
Elsbeth R. (Medford, WI)
I didn't particularly like this book. On the other hand, I didn't really dislike it. The first half of the the novel seemed slow-moving. The second half picked up steam and became a real page-turner.
When Serena was introduced, she was portrayed as an absolute wonder woman, being not only beautiful, but smart. She was portrayed as a woman who loved her husband and was determined to be his partner in love as well as the logging business. She was almost too unique to be believed. And then, as the story progressed, her true character came to light.
Loretta F. (Fountain Inn, SC)
After reading the first few sentences, I was drawn into the story and could not put it down. Now, the memory of it lingers, and I still find myself shaking my head in wonder at the sheer ruthlessness of the characters. They are larger than life and seem even more powerful than the mountains around them.
Besides being memorable, I enjoy reading fiction that can teach me something new. Set in the mountains of North Carolina, the author often relates native wisdom about plants and animals with tidbits such as salamanders in a spring help keep the water pure. The writing is sometimes homely and poetic as when the author describes the fall colors as "bright and various as a button jar." Sadly, I also learned much about the history of the timber business and its brutal impact on the environment.
This is a powerful novel and one of the best I have read in a long time. I would highly recommend it to individuals and book clubs.
Jane N. (Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey)
One of the main characters in this story realizes that a person can be starving for words as well as food. Ron Rash has written a story that will fill the reader with both words as well as food for thought. This story is set in the early days of the Great Depression in South Carolina lumber country, a time of great innocence and greed in this country. The descriptions of both the land and the characters are beautifully written and the reader will soon find themselves caught up in a story that is hard to put down. Serena is a character that is hard to fathom or forget, but it is well worth the readers time to try to understand her. I hope that Ron Rash has a sequel planned for this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading more of his work.
Vivian Q. (Greer, SC)
Compelling Page Turner
Ron Rash is a master storyteller. This book is even better than the last book of his that I read - Saints at the River. Serena grabs you from the first page and never lets go. The characters are vivid and very well written. Serena just leaps off the page. The story, set in 1929, is about greed. lust, the destruction of natural resources, wealth, and the sometimes destructive power that comes with it .
Quite compelling and beautifully written, I can't wait to see what Mr. Rash does next. Recommended for book clubs and all readers of gorgeous prose.