Serena: Book summary and reviews of Serena by Ron Rash

Serena

A Novel

by Ron Rash

Serena
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2009
    384 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband's life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons' intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.

First published in hardcover in October 2008. Publishing in paperback in October 2009.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Should be a breakthrough for this masterful storyteller." - Kirkus Reviews

"[Rash] has outdone himself. The story of this brilliant, ambitious, seductive woman is a searing tragedy of Shakespearean proportions—or, in simpler terms, a damn good book that will keep you awake far too late and, well after you’ve finished it, haunt your dreams." -- Julia Glass, author of Three Junes

About the Author
Ron Rash is the author of three prizewinning novels, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; three collections of poems; and three collections of stories. He teaches at Western Carolina University.

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

a brilliant novel
“…the work bell rang. The men left so quickly their cast-down forks and spoons seemed to retain a slight vibration, like pond water rippling after a splash”

Serena is the fourth novel by American author, Ron Rash. The mountains of North Carolina in the early 1930s were the scene of competing land grabs: timber getters like George Pemberton who were determined to make their fortunes clear-felling the slopes; miners like Harris who stripped the denuded land of its minerals; and the government, funded by wealthy patrons like Rockerfeller and Vanderbilt, committed to creating National Parks. Logging in this remote wilderness presented many hazards but the Depression ensured that labour was cheap and plentiful.

It is against this background that Rash sets the story of Serena, newly wed to Pemberton and intent on proving herself equal to any worker in this dangerous place. From the first she shows herself to be extremely capable, but also single-minded, calculating, fiercely possessive and completely ruthless. When she perceives a threat to her business or her marriage, she acts without hesitation, fear or favour. The story is told from three perspectives: George Pemberton, thoroughly enthralled by Serena; sixteen-year-old Rachel Harmon, mother of a son to Pemberton; and foreman Snipes, gauging the mood of his crew of sawyers and offering perceptive comments on their suspicions & superstitions.

Rash gives the reader an original plot, a story that ticks along steadily, eliciting occasional gasps at Serena’s despicable actions, until it builds to a gripping climax. His characters are multi-faceted; he includes many interesting historical facts and his love of the North Carolina landscape and the mountain dwellers is apparent in the wonderful descriptive prose: “The land’s angle became more severe, the light waning, streaked as if cut with scissors and braided to the ridge piece by piece” and “… the land increasingly mountainous, less inhabited, the occasional slant of pasture like green felt woven to a rougher fabric” are two examples.

Rash gives his young mother some insightful observations: “…what made losing someone you loved bearable was not remembering but forgetting. Forgetting the small things first, the smell of soap her mother had bathed with…the sound of her mother’s voice….the color of her hair……everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure it” and “It struck her how eating was a comfort during a hard time because it reminded you that there had been other days, good days, when you’d eaten the same thing. Reminded you there were good days in life, when precious little else did”

Rash has once again produced a brilliant novel, and his fans will not be disappointed. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood does with this riveting tale.

Shellie (Book Blogger @ layersofthought, AZ)

A Thrilling example of American Historical Fiction
I adore a good American Historical novel. Serena is one. The novel has a wonderful flow. It has language and dialog from the era and location, as well as descriptions of the locale. It is believable yet thrilling which kept me thinking about it. The main character is an incredible, complex, and amazing woman. An embodiment of an evil Athena and one of the best dark female characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. I would compare Serena with two of my all time favorites of the genre - My Antonia by Willa Cather, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Serena is now included it in that lofty list. All are 5 Star books for me.

Talya (Medical Lake, WA)

Beautiful work of Southern fiction
This work of art transformed me to the Carolina's during the Great Depression. It was a dark novel and I felt what all the characters were feeling, especially the author's Lady Macbeth herself, Serena. It was amazing to see how greed transforms the characters from beginning to the fantastic twists and turns of the plot. I will look for more novels by Ron Rash in the future.

Kathy G. (Alamo, CA)

Serena by Ron Rash
From the first page to the last, Ron Rash's storytelling was filled with contrasts between beauty and violence, land preservation versus economic interests, life versus death. His characters were captivating beyond words. I don't believe that there has ever been a woman quite like Serena!

Serena is my first book about the Southern Appalachia Region of North Carolina, and the trials of working for a lumber company. Ron Rash's descriptive pages placed me among the Highlanders - their string houses - their fears - their danger.

I highly recommend this beautifully written novel to book clubs and anyone who loves a good read. My next task is to order more of Ron Rash's books.

Kimberly H. (Stamford, CT)

Serena
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Beautifully written, a story of murderous greed set against a backdrop of timber farms in the Smoky Mountains, in what is now a national park. I highly recommend ths novel- it was hard to put down.

Gail L. (Cypress, TX)

Serena - A Fabulous Read
This book has all the elements that I enjoy in a work of fiction. It is a unique, colorful, story that is believably set in the mountains surrounding Ashville, North Carolina during the Great Depression. It is filled with interesting, well-developed characters and page-turning suspense.

The ending is brilliantly executed.

I heartily recommend this book for book clubs and lovers of well-written, literary historical fiction.

...37 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Ron Rash Author Biography

Photo: Mark Haskett

Ron Rash was born in Chester, South Carolina, in 1953, grew up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, and is a graduate of Gardner-Webb University and Clemson University. In 1994 he published his first book, a collection of short stories titled The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth. Since then, Rash has published four collections of poetry, three short story collections, and five novels, all to wide critical acclaim and several awards and honors. Rash's poems and stories have appeared in more than 100 magazines and journals over the years. With each new book, Rash has confirmed his position as a central and significant Appalachian writer alongside well-established names like Fred Chappell, Lee Smith, and Robert Morgan.

In 1996, Rash won the Sherwood Anderson Prize, a grant for developing ...

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