Review: Serena by Ron Rash

Author: Ron Rash
Originally published by Ecco Press, October 7, 2008
Paperback, 371 pages

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. (From Goodreads)

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while now, since it’s being turned into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence (of Hunger Games fame) in the title role. After reading the book, I can’t WAIT for the movie to be released next year, because I think Jen will be absolutely amazing in it.

But this isn’t a post about a movie, it’s a post about a book. And this book is stunning.

I love it when a book centers around a villain. And Serena is most definitely a villain. As is her husband, Pemberton, to some extent. They will stop at nothing to get what they want, until Serena finds Pemberton’s weakness: his illegitimate son. The story not only follows the Pembertons, but also the men who work at the Pembertons’ lumber camp, and Rachel, the mother of Pemberton’s son. In several reviews on Goodreads, I’ve seen the workers called “a kind of Greek chorus,” which basically sums up their purpose in the book. They fill in the gaps for us, as well as gossip about what they think really happened. I really loved reading their parts of the book because they were just so much fun. They served as comic relief as well.

I also enjoyed hearing Rachel’s story throughout the novel. It made me sympathize with her a lot more than I would have otherwise. Most of all, though, I enjoyed the character of Serena. No matter how evil she is, her character still made me want to cheer for her most of the time. Did I mention she has a pet eagle? Yeah, she’s a total bad ass.

The way this novel is written is absolutely beautiful. Some of Rash’s descriptions are so descriptive, I feel like I’m there. The whole thing was very, very literary. I feel like it could eventually be a classic. And I hope it is, because it’s just that good.

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