Serena: A Novelby Ron Rash is probably not a book I would have chosen for myself. Well, that’s kind of silly, because I obviously did chose it for myself. But not really, I let Publisher’s Weekly chose it for me for the Notable Books Challenge. This is why I do these challenges, to step out of my comfort zone, to expose myself to a variety of books.
Obligatory summary from someone other than myself (because I couldn’t write a good summary if my life depended on it):
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.
There are several things that I liked about this story. First, the location is familiar to me. It takes place around Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina, during the depression, with FDR trying to create The Smokey Mountain National Park. Second is Serena herself. She is a fascinating character, completely selfish and ruthless. While you admire her strength, you are appalled at her actions.
I give this 4 out 5.