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Serena by Ron Rash
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Serena (2008)

by Ron Rash

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I am usually not a huge fan of books set in Appalachia. The area is poverty stricken and books set there tend to be depressing. This story was an exception for me though. Once I started it I never put it down. The Serena of the title is a Martha Stewart of the North Carolina woods. She knows how to do everything expertly. When she marries her husband George Pemberton her special skill set enhances his lumber business exponentially. Of course there is a price to progress, a death (or many) here or there, nothing too trifling to them. In fact there is nothing Serena can't do except give George an heir. Unfortunately for Rachel, that was just the thing she did before Serena's arrival. She and her young son get caught in Serena's cross hairs as she embarks on their utter annihilation and that of anyone else who stands in her way.

I picked up this book because I saw that it is being made into a movie staring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. I think Jennifer will be perfect as Serena. She has the right mix of likability with an undercut of ruthlessness. I really enjoyed this story. I wasn't sure which way it was going and the ending was a firecracker. I also liked how far the novel went to wrap up the story. It was enthralling to the last page. I don't think I've ever read about a character quite like Serena. Although no explanation is ever given for why Serena is a diabolical as she is in the end I guess it doesn't matter. It was enough to be along on her hellish ride. ( )
  arielfl | Jun 23, 2014 |
I'm truly puzzled by all the rave reviews of this book. Read this because my book club picked it, and continued reading because of the rave reviews, hoping to discover whatever I was missing.

I did like the beautiful descriptions of the western North Carolina wilderness and logging practices. However, even those were often interrupted by stilted language, and sometimes verbs in past tense when they should've been in present tense, and vice-versa. (Editors, where were you?)

Granted, that's a nit. My big dislike is the main characters. Serena is a one dimensional villain: highly intelligent, beautiful, mesmerizing when it suited her, insatiably greedy, and willing to destroy anyone or anything that got in her way, from arson to clear-cutting a wilderness to murder. Why? We don't know why, we never really get in her head. Pemberton, her husband and pussy-whipped stooge, goes along with everything except murdering his bastard child, and the only reason we see for that is because the child resembles him so strongly. He doesn't even have the cojones to openly protect his child.

The only decent, disinterested person is Sheriff McDowell, but he's a minor character. Rachel is mildly interesting, but a) she too is a minor character, not appearing in too many pages, and b) she's protecting herself and her child.

Serena and Pemberton brutally mow down things that get in their way, be they trees or people. Most of the book is telling, not showing; I rarely felt tension or like I was IN the story. The repeated stylistic choice of burying dialogue within a block of description, without quotation marks, I found distracting, annoying, and to no real purpose, I said. (Yes, that's how it was done.)

There's an interchangeable trio of loggers who serve as something of a Greek chorus of commentary, "How long do you think it'll be before Serena has so-and-so-killed?" Their dialogue using local expressions is the second-best thing in the book, but it doesn't move the plot along (if there is a plot), and they don't themselves do anything but keep their heads down, chop down trees, and privately gossip on the side.

If you like dark characters from a safe emotional distance, and rambling stories, you might like this. ( )
1 vote writerbeverly | May 1, 2014 |
Wow, all I can say is... what a stone cold bitch! Serena is like a magestic, powerful panther that will gobble you up first chance she gets! I can hardly imagine how Jennifer Lawrence is going to play such a vile and twisted woman later this year on the big screen, so obviously I'll have to go see the movie version as well.

This award winning novel takes place in the North Carolina mountains amidst the Great Depression and follows newlyweds Serena and George Pemberton as they build focus on building and improving their timber empire in the mountains. Serena has decided that nothing or no one will get in their way, she is a resourceful woman and all men lay in awe of her, even her husband. When she discovers that she can bear no children she decides that if she can't have an heir then neither can her husband and she uses her one handed servant to track down and kill the illegitimate son that George sired before they had met.

This is a dark and twisting tale that explores just how deep greed and lust can go. Violence ensues.

Great book, but not a light read. ( )
  ecataldi | Jan 27, 2014 |
Spectacular! I finished this book & needed a couple days to just think about it before saying anything. I'm always thrilled when a book won't leave me alone after the reading is done. I loved this story & can honestly say that Serena was beyond formidable. I can't give away the best bits but honestly, there's something heartbreaking & altogether alluring in Pemberton when he's confronted with the truth of his end & is still determined to prove himself worthy of her. That was fascinating. I can't say Pemberton was blameless but I certainly don't think he deserved all that he got. The Coda at the end was a great bow on the story but I can honestly say that even without it, I would have been completely satisfied with the ending. Great characters & lush writing. I highly recommend this one. ( )
  anissaannalise | Jan 1, 2014 |
very violent. I really wanted to like the main character, she was so strong and confident, but unfortunately she was also completely psychotic! Interesting setting in a logging camp with hardly anyone blinking an eye at the total denudement of every tree in sight, except perhaps the drunken environmentalist who has a very teeny tiny bit part in the novel. Hard to see almost every character I started to like brutally murdered... ( )
  michellebarton | Oct 17, 2013 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:38 -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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