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Serena

A Novel

by Ron Rash

Serena by Ron Rash X
Serena by Ron Rash
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2009
    384 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Power Reviewer 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.
Marjorie H. (Bedford, TX)

Dark and Light
Few authors have the ability to put evil on paper but Ron Rash has accomplished just that. This taut, dark story puts faces on evil in the persons of husband and wife, Serena and Pemberton. In this compelling read you are reluctantly, yet curiously, pulled into their aura. With great skill, Ron Rash writes of the forces of good and evil - light and dark and keeps forcing the reader to recognize the destructive forces at work. And not just human destruction, but the destruction of acres and acres of timberland that serves as a backdrop to further the ambitious desires of these two people. To them, life is disposable at any cost and lumber more valuable than gold. Serena is capable of murder without a blink of an eye - as long as it serves her malicious need.
This book is sometimes hard to read - but I always came back to it - and so will you. Brilliantly done!
Linda M. (Three Oaks, MI)

Serena by Ron Rash
In this novel, Serena and George Pemberton are portrayed as ruthless, scheming and greedy timber barons who willingly discard human life and the environment in their pursuit of wealth.

Set in the Appalachian mountains during the Great Depression when labor was cheap and more than willing to endure any hardship for a job, Serena and George strip the land as fast as they can to squeeze every ounce of profit from it. No obstacle was insurmountable. Serena was not your typical women of the day…in the end, even she surpassed George in her single-minded heartlessness. I would have liked to have had more of Serena's history to understand her better, but it didn't detract from the novel. The author's eye for detail gave the reader a grim picture of what life was like for the common man during the depressed times.

Overall, this novel certainly had me running through a gamut of emotions from being shocked and appalled to hopeful and gratified and to me, that's what made it such a good book.

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