Friday, July 10, 2015

Serena - Ron Rash

Summary:  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.
  (Summary and image from

Review:  There is a lot to be said for traveling back in time through a book.  In the hands of a good author, a book can take you directly to a different time, a different place, or a different memory.  However, if the author is not quite on his game, the illusion can fail.  (Think the whole penny scene in Somewhere in Time, but maybe not so extreme.)

Ron Rash is a master scene-setter. Wherever the scene he was crafting took place, I felt like I was stepping through the pages of the book into wherever he was taking me.  It was easy to get lost in the scenes, and I appreciated it.  It made me want to keep reading.

Unfortunately, the story itself did not grab me as much as I had hoped.  I admit that this is a personal preference, but I feel like characters in the story need to have at least one redeemable quality, however slight, to make them believable.  I have never met or studied any individual who doesn't have at least one good quality.  Rash's characters, both the titular Serena and her husband Pemberton, are wholly without any such quality.  Not even their love for one another can be counted, as they both plot against one another mercilessly.  It's hard to feel bonded to a character that just screams UNREAL.

This absolute lack of humanity completely halted the story for me.  I didn't understand the motivations, I didn't care about the setbacks.  Their triumphs and defeats were hollow and two-dimensional, and it ruined Rash's mastery of the setting.  Even the ending, which I could tell was meant to be heart-racing and shocking left me feeling like I could FINALLY put the book down and walk away.  After starting the year with such grabbing books, this left a poor taste in my mouth.

Rating:  One and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Murders, gore, violence, nudity ... while all fairly tastefully handled, these are wholly corrupt characters, and their actions define that.


Susan @ Reading World said...

I agree. This was well-written and showed the ravages of what they did to the land and the community very well, but it was just so mean and the characters so awful that I was miserable the whole time I was reading it.

Jillian said...

Aw, sorry you didn't like it! I've been interested in this because of the movie adaptation that sadly also didn't get much attention. It's on netflix, so maybe I'll just watch that.

Sydney said...

Ron Rash was a professor of mine and the entire University was required to read this book. Rash definitely has a good style, but I really didn't like this book. The movie isn't good either, but it's on Netflix :/


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