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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 eual 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 vanuish 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 reckoningRash's masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that at its core tells of love both honored and betrayed

10 thoughts on “Serena

  1. says:

    I think this is what the end of the world will be like McIntyre said and none among them raised his voice to disagree In the primeval woods of North Carolina young timber baron George Pemberton brings his bride Serena to live with him in his kingdom He had been busy enough already fathering a child with a local girl and clear cutting wide swaths of land Serena uickly establishes herself as a power in her own right knowledgeable about the timber business from her family background in Colorado frightened of nothing and totally totally ruthless She is both an almost deitific figure and a satanic one She will tolerate no criticism and her ambition is beyond measure Beware any who would cross her path Both murderer of people and proud rapist of the land she acuires a henchman to take care of her dirtiest deeds among which is the removal of George’s bastard child and the child’s mother and enlists a non human assistant as well One thing you should know is that whenever Serena speaks it is in iambic pentameter another way in which Rash makes her stands out Ron Rash image from StarTribune shot by Ashley JonesLiterature with a capital L Serena is one of the great dark females in literary history up there with Livia Lady MacBeth and others of their ilk Beautiful beautiful writing This is the most satisfying read I have had all year 2009 Ron Rash is a major find It is a wonder that he is not as well known as Ondaatje or others on that high plain A feast a powerful tale accompanied by a symphony of classical and literary tones Hubris greed man and god doing the right thing magic vengeance good and evil the essence of America capitalism and with a Greek chorus to boot If this is not made into a world class best picture level film it will be a huge huge loss This is a very cinematic book on that below rich in color scenery imagery dramatic settings shocking events bigger than life characters and all with purpose Major major work It makes one yearn for June 6 2017 I was alerted by GR friend Linda to the following from April 2017 WCU's Ron Rash wins Guggenheim Fellowship Rash deserves all the recognition there is he is a national treasureEXTRA STUFFReviews of other Ron Rash books 2010 Burning Bright 2012 The Cove 2013 Nothing Gold Can Stay 2015 Above the Waterfall 2016 The Risen 2020 In the ValleyAugust 5 2020 GR’s Kindle Notes and Highlights featured Rash adding comments on the book worth a lookRash does not so far as I can tell have a facebook page But his son James set up a Fan Club FB page for him THE FILM21015 I wrote the above somewhat thin review several years back If anything it understates the power of the book It was only a matter of time before the novel was translated to the big screen It will be opening in the US later this month I was honored to attend yesterday a screening of the new film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper Although hopes had been high initially once the project got under way it became apparent that all would not end up as hoped It was not for example taken on by one of Hollywood's A list directors despite the acting star power The result is while not a bad film not an exceptional one either and that is a huge shame The problems are diverse The performances are uite good as one would expect Liberties were taken with the character of Serena that I thought did not help In the book for example it is clear early on that Serena is a dark and powerful force with a hearty dollop of madness mixed in The film plays her softer in the beginning and offers an event that purports to spark her madness I was reminded of another film that got this sort of thing wrong Sweeney Todd In the original theatrical production Sweeney returns to London uite sane but determined to seek vengeance on the evil doer who had done him dirt It is when he fails in his initial attempt at the evil Judge Turpin that Sweeney goes all meat pie in the head The disappointing film portrays him as bonkers from the start making him so much less human which dilutes the impact of the savagery in which he engages In Serena she is a primal force from the git go and there is no need for the film to justify her dark doings with an intermediate event It is like attempting to justify a tornado Don't It just is Bradley Cooper's character Pemberton seemed a bit harsher in the film than in the book where although he is an awful person he was much driven by events than he is in this treatment The book was written at least in part as a look at the rape of the land in North Carolina I thought it was a better way to look at the present through the past I wrote Serena because of what was happening a couple of years ago with environmental issues particularly it looked like there was going to be some really extensive logging in National Forests It didn't uite happen as badly as I thought it was going to happen but certainly the threat was there from 1805 of Stacey Cochran’s interview with Rash on 2readcom standing in for the rape of the land today but that cinematographical smorgasbord was left on the table mostly untouched There are some scenes that let us in on the damage being done particularly a brilliant scene in which Pemberton in a public forum challenges those who propose a national park that will include his land But a lot could have been offered visually to reinforce this theme Instead of a slow and steady build up of tension and pressure the film seemed to mosey along stopping far too often to linger in far too many closeups making this one hour forty nine minute film feel much longer The ending of the story for Serena is changed from that of the book I suppose it is understandable but I was hoping for greater allegiance to the original material Rash was asked in a 32415 interview by Judith Rosen in Publishers Weekly about his involvement with the film adaptations of Serena and an earlier novel I made a decision early on not to read either screenplay I answered a few uestions from the screenwriters but was otherwise uninvolved in the filming For me that was better I was deep into a new novel during that period and preferred to concentrate on something that unlike film I knew I could do well Of course I hoped the movies would be as true as possible to my novels but it is a different medium so differences are inevitable Someone once asked Harry Crews what a film “might do” to his book and he answered that a film didn’t change a single word in the book itself That seems a good attitude for a writer to take A couple of minor notes there is an unintentional joke when Cooper's character is referred to by another as a lousy shot The trailer for the film contains a fabulous shot of Serena launching an eagle from her arm Somehow that did not make it into the final cut The film is definitely interesting but it struck me overall as a melody that was slightly out of tune a drum that was off the beat and a huge opportunity that was lost to bring one of the best novels of our time to the big screen I can only hope that the presence of J Law and Cooper can bring enough attention to Ron Rash's great novel to propel an increase in his readership As one of our greatest living writers he deserves that He certainly deserved better than this only ok film

  2. says:

    i am alarmed that i only wrote a four line review of this amazing book now that i am starting to read the cove i figure now is as good a time as any to remind this website just how good ron rash is and how so far serena is the best of them i am only on page 15 of the cove so this could changewhenever i try to hand sell this at work i will usually just say it is like macbeth in a logging community with a greek chorus which as a customer i would hear and think i must read this book but it doesn't always work heathensi mean that's still as good a description as i can come up with although serena gets her hands way dirtier than lady mcb like out damn river of bloodthis is a historical piece chronicling the rise of an uber power couple in a 1929 logging town in north carolina serena enters the community after her new husband has already established himself there and has already fathered a child on a local girl she is displeased and when serena is displeased people are going to get hurtserena is one of the most wonderfully single mindedly ruthless characters i have ever read she knows her way around a logging operation better than her husband she hunts and rides better than any of the men she and her husband oversee and she has a freaking falcon i don't have my book with me right now but i am pretty sure it is a falcon it is some kind of bird that hangs out with its master and is completely badass when she discovers that she is unable to bear a child herself she sets out to destroy the one her husband has already fathered and the girl and the girl's father and anyone else who has anything to say about itron rash is an amazing man for description he knows these logging towns he knows the woods and the men who work there there is so much life in this story and most of it; the people and the trees they are felling is the last gasp of this life all is destructioni know i have said this in a another review somewhere but what heightens the impact of this book is not only the danger of serena and her husband ain't no pleasant master either but the danger of nature itself like in my beloved descent where the caves are just as dangerous as any subterranean monsters cutting down gigantic trees is also extremely dangerous many men will die through natural accident or manipulation by the most ambitious couple in literaturethis is a glorious book and needs to be read by all except elizabeth it has too much animal death for her it is a deadly operationafter alla uick note about how saddened i am that the movie that was in the works with darren arnofsky and angelina jolie got canceled the word is now that there will still be a movie by susanne bier starring bradley cooper and jennifer lawrence which is fine but this character just screams jolie to meold stupid reviewthis book has so damn much in it the murderous machinations of the macbeths the steinbeckianold testament themes of justice and revenge the casual murders nature can wreak that are cormac mccarthy cowboyish and a greek chorus of sorts i have name dropped i have loved appalachia i have finished my papercome to my blog

  3. says:

    Since joining the southern literary trail group on goodreads I have discovered many gifted authors who I normally would not have considered It is in this regard that I was lead to the works of Ron Rash a literature professor at Western Carolina university Rash has won multiple awards for his novels and I decided on Serena as the first of his novels to read George and Serena Pemberton are timber barons from Boston who have set up a logging camp in western North Carolina Set in 1929 in the early days of the depression the Pembertons fell trees at the expense of the fledging National Park Service who desire the land for themselves in order to leave a lasting gift for the American people The loggers believe however that people need jobs than an enduring present This battle for the land becomes a plot that lasts for the duration of the novel Serena is ruthless and will not let the National Park Service or anyone else stand in the way of her dreams Compared by many to Lady Macbeth Serena employs a one handed log camp worker named Galloway to murder anyone who threatens to stand between her and her ultimate goal which is to set up a logging empire in virgin Brazilian forests Having read Macbeth I believe that Serena is evil than her Shakespearean counterpart Rash also employs a Greek chorus as loggers discuss Serena's bidding adding to her lore in the logging camp Her exploits astride an Arabian mare while training an eagle all the while proving eual than the male camp workers strengthen her myth As her myth grows so does her ruthlessness and Rash follows this through the novel's conclusion Meanwhile the one thing Serena wants but cannot have is a male heir Prior to her arrival at the camp George fathered a child by teenage camp waitress Rachel Harmon and the child is his spitting image Serena makes George choose between her and them causing her husband to pull on his conscience Serena becomes obsessed with seeking out Rachel and her son creating a thrilling page turner that lasts for the last third of the novel I am sure that Serena will not be my last Rash novel He has created memorable fleshed out characters while writing strong prose that appeals to literary aficionados Yet Serena's character and uest also favors people who prefer thrillers I enjoyed the balance between literary fiction and thriller as I read about depression era North Carolina and I am extremely looking forward to reading of Rash's books

  4. says:

    “A kind of annihilation was what Serena called their coupling and though Pemberton would never have thought to describe it that way he knew her words had named the thing exactly” Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play the power couple in the 2015 movieGeorge Pemberton brought back a wife from Boston More than a wife of a force of nature as dangerous as a witch and as pretty as an angel He feels stronger with her by his side and though never a man lacking in confidence that self assurance is further emboldened by the Machiavellian counsel of his new wife Before going to Boston to marry Serena Pemberton fathered a child on a young girl named Rachel a worker in the timber camp When he returns after basking in the glow of his new wife he can’t understand why he ever found Rachel attractive In a place where women age uickly her youth was her banner of attraction but now he has Serena Rachel had a boy the spitting image of Pemberton Rachel pays the price of her dalliances with Pemberton not just with having an illegitimate child which seems potentially punishment enough but by the condescending judgment of the other “Christian” women in the camp What was she to do tell him no? The women refuse to speak with her or even sit with her at lunch as if the taint of her sin could pass to them ”She realized that being starved for words was the same as being starved for food because both left a hollow place inside you a place you needed filled to make it through another day”It is really hard to like people sometimesOn the other hand it is very easy to like Rachel If one zig or zag of life had went a different direction most of those women spurning her could have found themselves in a similar circumstances or worse Compassion is something we all need from time to time and though some of our bad fortune may be left at our own doorstep rarely is anything all our fault Sometimes fate just shakes out a pair of snake eyes There is this moment where Rachel is out in the middle of nowhere slightly astray but temporarily free from the burden of anxiety ”She looked at the stars and they brightened and dimmed in accord with her breathing as if one hard puff might blow the whole lot of them out like candles” So much of our life is spent just stumbling forward barely noticing what is in front of us but because she stopped even ever so briefly and looked at the stars Rachel brought the universe to the cusp of her lips Maybe some of that was in the attraction Pemberton once felt for her The right pet for the lady that wants to be taken seriouslySerena is almost mythological among the men of the timber camp She rides around with an eagle perched on her arm She sends the bird out to kill rattlesnakes to reduce the number of bitten workers The men admire her lust after her and fear her “He George suspected the workers thought of Serena as beyond gender the same as they might some phenomenon of nature such as rain or lightning” Men who cross Pemberton or even men who get in his way start having mishaps The Pembertons become richer and powerful In the backwoods of North Carolina they can get away withwellanything One good man isn’t enough to stand up to them It takes a community but this is 1929 and everyone is afraid of losing their job than they are at stopping wickedness especially when the devil and his handmaiden have the keys to the gold Pemberton has a loose moral code Well it’s not really much of a code per say as a philosophy of life It is of a what’s best for Pemberton code and any soft edges he might have once possessed have been turned jagged with the steady influence of Serena From the beginning she seduces him with her sexual assurance and her focused intelligence He has never met anyone like her and fortunately for most of humanity there are few like Serena As they get away with the worst of crimes it only encourages them to do Every villain or villainess needs a henchman When Galloway loses a hand he expects to be sent down the road to a life of poverty and despair until Serena offers to keep him on the payroll as long as he is willing to do whatever she needs done He is understandably grateful but there is only so much a man should sell of his soul to keep his place on this earth and certainly Galloway decides to sell than what any man should Pemberton is kept and in the dark as Serena clears a path for him The swath she clears is not unlike the surface of the North Carolina hills after they are done harvesting trees ”The valley and the ridges resembled the skinned hide of some large animal”When Serena loses a child and learns she can’t have she is upset for now there is someone who has given Pemberton what she can’t She turns her thoughts to the child and the mother Rachel has to run with the specter of the one armed man haunting her at every turn ”Briars grabbed her legs and each time there was an instant she thought Galloway had her”Will Pemberton finally do something? Or is even this beyond his control? Is he willing to sacrifice his only offspring on the altar of Serena? Is this one time when God deigns to throw a glance at the workings of man or in this case one woman? George there are things you can live with and there are even things that YOU can’t live withUriah Heep is always the first villain of fiction that comes to my mind when I think of a character that gave me the most chills but Ron Rash’s creation Serena Pemberton certainly goes on the list We are all born with a natural need for self preservation We have varying degrees of things we are willing to do to save ourselves This can even be applied to less immediately dire concerns like bettering our position in a financial or social way There is something feral about people like Serena who perceive all threats or nuisances as eually threatening whether it be a true rival or just a person who has become less useful We’ve come to accept ruthlessness in a certain kind of man but we still find it jarring when a woman is the one capable of being so merciless If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews visit also have a Facebook blogger page at

  5. says:

    I really like strong female heroines and Ron Rash’s Serena delivers on that You might not like her but the novel’s title character is capable resourceful and ruthlessly ambitious I also enjoyed how Rash used the battle to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park early environmentalists versus timber interests in the late 1920s to frame his fictional story As was the case with The Cove a Ron Rash novel I read in the spring I was continually impressed with Rash’s writing; his descriptions evoke the land and the people who inhabit it And his use of historical details is always intriguing In the end though Serena is written as a larger than life character in a way that undermines her believability I also felt that foreshadowing in the book was a little heavy handed and took suspense away from the unfolding plot Overall I enjoyed this book and will read of Ron Rash’s writing

  6. says:

    I read the first 90 pages of this book and couldn't continue The writing is excellent uite impressive really But when each chapter brought a new form of cruelty to animals I had to stop Bashing in a raccoon's skull with an axeStarving a captive eagle to bend it to your willBaiting a field with corn and apples so you can shoot twelve deer and a bear for sport then just leave them all piled in the middle of the field to rot after you've killed themAre you sickened yet? I found myself distressed and in tears and I knew it was time to uit I can be fair and go with two stars instead of one because the writing and storytelling is good but I don't think it was necessary to include that much brutality toward innocent creatures

  7. says:

    I am constantly seeking out books with a Macbeth type theme Unfortunately that is reeeeeaaaallly hard There are not that many I also love unlikable characters in fiction and I adore evil soulmatesbecause eventually evil people in love will turn on one anotherand THAT is when things get interesting One will always be evil than the other1929 Waynesville North Carolina Newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where George shows Serena the place where they will create their timber EmpireSerena comes from a timber background she ate slept and lived timber from the time she was a little girl and in George she has found the man she finally thinks of as her eualher soulmatebut there is one tiny little glitch by the name of Rachel Because before George met Serena he had a past in Waynesville a past that is about to reveal itself in a baby A baby boy that will gnaw at Serena and be someone's undoing More than one person's undoing actuallyAs Serena and George settle in to their life people that stand in their way of happiness start feeling the pressure For Serena is a scary foe to haveShe may look like an angelbut Serena is far from angelic sitting on her white horse with an eagle at her side There are not many people that will get in her wayand who is left standing at the end of it alland who isn't may surprise youI loved this book Serena is a villain you love to hateand loving and hating makes for some on the edge of your seat readingTimber has never been this excitingHere is how we do things in Canada cause THAT'S how we rooooollllllLog driver's waltz

  8. says:

    I started this book with high hopes which may have been part of the problem But the main problem is the paper thinness of the main characters Halfway into the book I was still straining to figure out which name referred to which character since none of them had been given any distinct personalities And I think I'm supposed to admire the main characters but hate them at the same time since they're fairly heinous? But honestly I felt nothing besides boredom for them They were flat and uninteresting I couldn't even love to hate them or get excited as I saw them setting up their inevitable downfall Pemberton is a tall strong ruthless man who shows a common touch by doing the work that he asks his employees to do; I think we're supposed to find this modern and admirable Serena is a tall strong ruthless woman whose entire character development comes from her really super cool pissing contests with the men which proves how strong she is Oh and she tames an eagle and an Arabian horse becauseshe is wild and untamed? I think? And is forever after described as riding her Arabian with the eagle on her arm even if she's just going to the damn kitchen It feels like the author's fantasy of himself and his perfect mate were masturbated onto the pageThe redeeming parts of the book to me were the descriptions of the mountains of Virginia It seemed like the author put a lot of research into the flora and fauna in the area and how logging was changing the landscape I found Rachel's story the most interesting just because it dealt with how a person in the Appalachian mountains survived in the 1920s I'd read a book from Rachel's perspective with characters like the widow and the Galloways and insight into a 1920s logging camp

  9. says:

    The reviews I had read prior to my reading this novel were very polarized Many loved it many hated it The impression it left me lies somewhere in the middleRon Rash's prose is beautiful It is realistic and earthy but not raw or unpolished and it helps you visualize the harsh Appalachian landscape full of lore and superstitions which is slowly falling prey to the needs of the developing modern world The heart of the novel is Serena a deeply flawed mysterious heroine that bends eagles and men alike to her will Pemberton her husband has some sins of the past to atone for The relationship between the married young couple is the element that attracts the reader's attention in my opinion And there lies the fault of the novel When the two main characters are absent Serena simply seizes to exist Every other character is boring their conversations are provincial and deeply sexist Of course this last remark may be somehow unjust considering the time and setting of the novel We have men who feel threatened by a powerful woman In addition the animal violence was too muchThe mad preacher is infuriatingly annoying and Rachel is a snooze fest her only function lies to additional melodrama She is weak she only thinks and never acts a character I simply didn't care about As a result much skimming and skipping pages took place in a novel that is not particularly longI could see the end coming from a distance when view spoilerPemberton expressed the will to aid Rachel and his illegitimate son hide spoiler

  10. says:

    Beautiful descriptions and a great storyline I don't like the title now that I have finished reading it but I think that is sort of the point and I'm not saying I know a better one Ron Rash did a wonderful job of making the reader hate the characters that were to be hated and also feel pity for those that were to be pitied