Serena by Ron Rash

serena ron rash

I found this a very quick read, but I think that might be because I was rushing through it because I was not really enjoying it. It is set in North Carolina in the early 1930s. The story centres around Mr Pemberton, who is a nasty piece of work, and his new bride, Serena, who is an out-and-out psychopath.

Before meeting Serena, Pemberton got a teenage girl pregnant, but she is given no help nor shown any tenderness from either of the Pembertons. They know what they want and how to get it. Unfortunately, what they want is to ruin the woodlands they own by logging every last tree, then move on the Brazil to do it there. Sometimes they kill to get what they want.

I found it a very grim novel to read, because I could not like the two main characters. According to one of the reviews on the book’s sleeve Serena is “brilliant, ambitious and seductive,” she may be all those things, but evil would be the first word I would choose. She begins gaining the trust and respect of her workers by winning a bet about logging yields and then shooting a bear. Nice. I really do not like one-dimensional characters such as this in novels. We all have good and bad in us, and I prefer it when an author writes people that way. Apart from her being unashamed to work as a man in the awful business she and her husband do for a living, there is nothing admirable about her.

A bizarre thing about this novel is the spoiler on the sleeve. The book spoils itself by telling us what will happen, and pretty much how it will all end. It seems like a very odd thing to do.

The best thing about this book was it’s portrait of what a rough life it was for these logging workers at that time. It was a dangerous job, which offers many different unpleasant ways to die, and it probably still is. There is a terrible scene where a young boy drowns under the logs they transport down the river. I would imagine that this sort of thing still happens. I am told that these mountains in North Carolina are very beautiful, so I wonder what they would have looked like a hundred years ago.

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