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Serena by Ron Rash
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Serena (2008)

by Ron Rash

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Serena by Ron Rash; (4 1/2*)

Ron Rash has beautifully written a wonderfully compelling tale of greed, murder and destruction. Set in a 1920s Smoky Mountain logging camp during the Great Depression, he tells the story of ruthless lumber baron, George Pemberton and his brutally ambitious bride, Serena. The book opens as the newlyweds arrive at the Waynesville, North Carolina train station. They are met by Pemberton's pregnant former lover and her vengeful father. Their encounter ends violently, with Serena providing a glimpse of her violent and cruel nature.
Greedy for more land and wealth they will do anything, including murder, to expand their vast lumber empire. Aggressively competing for the land is the U.S. government, eager to preserve it as a national park.
As the story unfolds Serena grows even more vicious, encouraging her husband on to violent actions. Rash has brilliantly woven and co-mingled real life historical figures and events with his intriguing fictional characters. His beautiful writing brings this spellbinding story to life. I was truly captivated by the vivid descriptions of the land, the era and the overall feeling of the times. Interesting Appalachian folklore and insights into the local culture enhanced the storyline. The hardships and dangers of a logging camp and its brutal impact on the environment are explicitly described. I found the complex debate over land use to be very thought provoking.
(this is still being debated in my corner of the world; the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.)
I loved this shocking but engrossing slice of life, a gripping story of timber barons who will stop at nothing to gain more land and wealth. I was mesmerized by both the story and the quality of writing. A most excellent story of greed, corruption, murder and mayhem. ( )
  rainpebble | Aug 22, 2015 |
Haunting story of timber barons in early 20th-century North Carolina. On a trip to Boston George Pemberton is enchanted by and marries young orphan Serena. She is lovely and strong, but soon her strength in consolidating their holdings and their personal life moves into uncomfortable. She earns the respect of the loggers with her timber knowledge, but when she brings an eagle into camp and becomes more solemn and remote, What are the borders between strength and psychopath?

As a lover of the North Carolina mountains, I don't think this story will slip from my mind any time soon -- but it was a bit stilted. I cannot wholeheartedly recommend. ( )
  wareagle78 | Aug 19, 2015 |
One of my favorite novels about Appalachia and arguably my favorite novel by Ron Rash. Rash is a master storyteller, capable of making us love not only the heroes but also the villains. Serena is, as many have said before, the character you love to hate.

The haunting narrative, set during the clear-cutting of North America's old growth forests, combines both historical and mythological themes to create a story that pulls you in and holds you captive to the very end.

As a side note, the film based on this novel starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is a good film in its own right but can be disappointing for those who read the book first. That is to say, it's apples and oranges and the setting and main characters are really the only things the two have in common. ( )
  WritingHaiku | Jul 28, 2015 |
Picked this one up at the library in order to participate in a book club being sponsored by our local NPR station and a local independent bookseller. This book was engrossing but certainly not uplifting. Very few characters were appealing to me (or "good guys"). Most were conniving, murderous, or otherwise villainous. Nevertheless, I had to keep reading to see where the story went.

The author touches on many important themes and topics in his telling of this story set in the Smoky Mountains at the point in history when the country was in the Great Depression and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was still on the drawing board. Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton are determined to squeeze every last drop of profit from the forest and not to allow the government to take the land for the park. They are shrewd businesspeople who let no one stand in the way of their progress.

Fascinating and well written, Serena is not a story I will soon forget, but I certainly would not want to have dinner with any of the characters! ( )
  glade1 | Jun 5, 2015 |
Serena, by Ron Rash, chronicles the lives of a North Carolina couple and their rise to power in the 1929 logging industry. When Serena and George Pemberton marry they return to North Carolina and to Pemberton’s already established logging camp where they intend to build their empire. Pemberton has already fathered an illegitimate child; the pregnant girl and her father are waiting at the train station when he and Serena arrive. Serena quickly dismisses the young girl by telling her she was lucky to have had such a fine sire for her child but that she would never be so lucky again. The girl’s father wants to settle matters, so Serena calmly tells Pemberton that he should get his knife out and do exactly that. It’s in this moment that the reader gets their first glimpse of the powerhouse that is Serena!

Serena is one of the most ruthless female characters I’ve ever read about; she fears absolutely nothing and I loved her for it! Her father was a timber man in Colorado before she became an orphan and he taught her all the in’s-and-out’s of the industry. She proves she can stand up against even the best of men with her logging knowledge- as well as her hunting and riding skills. This would have been extremely unusual for a woman of this era and I loved reading the men’s reactions to her in this regard. When Serena learns she is unable to bear children, she formulates a dark and seedy plan to destroy her husband’s only son, as well as anyone else who stands in her way. This is the ultimate tale of power and corruption!

With his fluid writing and realistic descriptions, Ron Rash pulled me right into the logging town and its beautifully lush, North Carolina landscapes. I enjoyed learning all the historical facts about the logging industry, it’s such an iconic part of American History and truly fascinating! I had never read anything by this author before and I’m glad I chose Serena as my introduction. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves American history; told from the perspective of dark, greedy characters. I believe this would also make a fantastic choice for Book Clubs, especially with the movie just recently released. There is so much about Serena, Pemberton and their ending that could be discussed and dissected for hours, truly a great read!
( )
  jenladuca | May 22, 2015 |
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A hand, that with a grasp may grip the worlde.
--Christopher Marlowe
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For my bother, Thomas Rash
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When Pemberton returned to the North Carolina mountains after three months in Boston settling his father's estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a young woman pregnant with Pemberton's child.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061470856, Hardcover)

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.

Rash's masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed.

The Gift of Silence: An Essay by Ron Rash

When readers ask how I came to be a writer, I usually mention several influences: my parents’ teaching by example the importance of reading; a grandfather who, though illiterate, was a wonderful storyteller; and, as I grew older, an awareness that my region had produced an inordinate number of excellent writers and that I might find a place in that tradition. Nevertheless, I believe what most made me a writer was my early difficulty with language.

My mother tells me that certain words were impossible for me to pronounce, especially those with j’s and g’s. Those hard consonants were like tripwires in my mouth, causing me to stumble over words such as “jungle” and “generous.” My parents hoped I would grow out of this problem, but by the time I was five, I’d made no improvement. There was no speech therapist in the county, but one did drive in from the closest city once a week.

That once a week was a Saturday morning at the local high school. For an hour the therapist worked with me. I don’t remember much of what we did in those sessions, except that several times she held my hands to her face as she pronounced a word. I do remember how large and empty the classroom seemed with just the two of us in it, and how small I felt sitting in a desk made for teenagers.

I improved, enough so that by summer’s end the therapist said I needed no further sessions. I still had trouble with certain words (one that bedevils me even today is “gesture”), but not enough that when I entered first grade my classmates and teacher appeared to notice. Nevertheless, certain habits of silence had taken hold. It was not just self-consciousness. Even before my sessions with the speech therapist, I had convinced myself that if I listened attentively enough to others my own tongue would be able to mimic their words. So I listened more than I spoke. I became comfortable with silence, and, not surprisingly, spent a lot of time alone wandering nearby woods and creeks. I entertained myself with stories I made up, transporting myself into different places, different selves. I was in training to be a writer, though of course at that time I had yet to write more than my name.

Yet my most vivid memory of that summer is not the Saturday morning sessions at the high school but one night at my grandmother’s farmhouse. After dinner, my parents, grandmother and several other older relatives gathered on the front porch. I sat on the steps as the night slowly enveloped us, listening intently as their tongues set free words I could not master. Then it appeared. A bright-green moth big as an adult’s hand fluttered over my head and onto the porch, drawn by the light filtering through the screen door. The grown-ups quit talking as it brushed against the screen, circled overhead, and disappeared back into the night. It was a luna moth, I learned later, but in my mind that night it became indelibly connected to the way I viewed language--something magical that I grasped at but that was just out of reach.

In first grade, I began learning that loops and lines made from lead and ink could be as communicative as sound. Now, almost five decades later, language, spoken or written, is no longer out of reach, but it remains just as magical as that bright-green moth. What writer would wish it otherwise.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:15 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"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 rattlesnakes, 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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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