The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton arrive from Boston in the North Carolina mountains to build a timber empire. Serena is new to the mountains – but she soon proves herself the equal of any worker, overseeing crews, hunting rattlesnakes, even saving her husband's life in the wilderness. She soon learns that she will never bear a child. Serena's discovery will set in motion a course of events that will change the lives of everyone in this remote and unforgiving landscape.
As the Pembertons' intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel, this riveting story of love, passion and revenge moves towards its shocking reckoning
a brilliant novel
â€œâ€¦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 splashâ€
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 Serenaâ€™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: â€œThe landâ€™s angle became more severe, the light waning, streaked as if cut with scissors and braided to the ridge piece by pieceâ€ and â€œâ€¦ the land increasingly mountainous, less inhabited, the occasional slant of pasture like green felt woven to a rougher fabricâ€ are two examples.
Rash gives his young mother some insightful observations: â€œâ€¦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 withâ€¦the sound of her motherâ€™s voiceâ€¦.the color of her hairâ€¦â€¦everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure itâ€ and â€œIt struck her how eating was a comfort during a hard time because it reminded you that there had been other days, good days, when youâ€™d eaten the same thing. Reminded you there were good days in life, when precious little else didâ€
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.