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Serena: A Novel

Serena: A Novel

3.7 101
by Ron Rash

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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 equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Depression-era lumber baron George Pemberton and his callous new wife, Serena, are venality incarnate in Rash's gothic fourth novel (after The World Made Straight), set, like the other three, in Appalachia. George-who coolly kills the furious father of Rachel Harmon, the teenage girl pregnant with George's bastard son-is an imperious entrepreneur laying waste to North Carolina timberland without regard for the well-being of his workers. His evil pales beside that of Serena, however. Rash's depictions of lumber camp camaraderie (despite deadly working conditions) are a welcome respite from Serena's unrelenting thirst for blood and wealth; a subplot about government efforts to buy back swaths of privately owned land to establish national parks injects real history into this implacably grim tale of greed and corruption gone wild-and of eventual, well-deserved revenge. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This is a violent story about ambition, privilege, and ruthlessness played out in an Appalachian timber camp in North Carolina during the Depression. The novel opens with the camp's wealthy owner, George Pemberton, returning from Boston with his new bride, Serena. He is met on a train platform by his business partners-and by camp kitchen worker Rachel, who is carrying his child (and meeting the train with her angry father). When George leaves the platform, Rachel's father is dead, and Rachel herself has been spurned and humiliated. The novel is richly detailed, and many of the characters are skillfully drawn by Rash (The World Made Straight). Unfortunately, though, the Pembertons-who are rapacious and monstrously self-absorbed-often seem one-dimensional and implausible. Serena is particularly hard to believe at times. Still, parts of the novel are superb, particularly the final section when Serena turns violently against Rachel and her son. The Pembertons create a wasteland in these beautiful mountains, and Rash also renders that loss powerfully. Though flawed, this manages to be an engaging read. Recommended for libraries with large fiction collections.
—Patrick Sullivan

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestseller Serena and Above the Waterfall, in addition to four prizewinning novels, including The Cove, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; four collections of poems; and six collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. Twice the recipient of the O. Henry Prize, he teaches at Western Carolina University.

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Serena 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 101 reviews.
BekahNC More than 1 year ago
First, this is a very good book. Being a native of the area the book is set in and hearing my grandparents talk about logging in the area made it even better for me. Serena is a captivatingly evil character. A friend loaned me the book and I liked it so much I bought a copy, then a copy for my nook. This is my favorite quote from the book. "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." I was very perturbed to find it missing from the e-book. The quote is simply not there. This makes me wander what else I might be missing in my collection of e-books.
catpaw More than 1 year ago
This dramatic story of an ambitious, beautiful woman who manages her husband's timber holdings in the Smokies in a ruthlessly aggressive manner has an epic sweep. It is intricately plotted and beautifully written - I savoured the language and the Appalachian cadences of the workers (who also act as a sort of Greek chorus, an effective device), and the descriptions of the mountains and the harsh conditions of the times (1930s), as well as fascinating detail on the lives and hard times of the workers themselves. About a third of the way through the book the exposition started to become sort of biblical: the bad people were REALLY bad, the powerless and meek completely so, and the killings started to mount up - to the extent that it all became somewhat cartoonish, like the boulder continually squashing Wile E. Coyote. In that sense it became a "he said, she said" kind of book, which is a shame, because a lot of loving work had obviously been put into researching the period and the logging industry of the time, and those sections of the book that did not topple over into high melodrama were exceptional. However, the single trait that defined each character ensured they remained two-dimensional and ultimately drove the plot down a predictable path.
Guest More than 1 year ago
During the Depression in Appalachia, wealthy lumber baron George Pemberton returns from Boston to Waynesville, North Carolina accompanied by his new wife, the orphan Serena. Waiting for him to disembark from the train is his sycophant partners, pregnant teenage kitchen hand Rachel Harmon and her outraged father. A drunken Harmon demands Pemberton take care of the child he sired. Instead encouraged by Serena, George kills him as he knows he is above the law.-------------- Pemberton destroys the land and its people and his wife Serena is as evil and avaricious as he is. She insures Rachel is scorned by everyone and that the brat once born remains the bastard he or she is. Meanwhile Serena also obtains the undying loyalty of foreman Galloway whose life she saved he becomes her slave willing to kill anyone if she asks however George actually likes having a son adoring Jacob and angering his wife.-------------- This is an intriguing look at the Depression from various perspectives. Especially fascinating is the poignant glimpse at horrific working conditions that make a case for a strong OSHA and yet in spite of the danger of death and maim the workers have forged a club like solidarity (mindful of soldiers in war conditions). Although the key cast is stereotyped the Pembertons especially Serena are evil caricatures of the abuse of wealth while in contrast poor single mom Rachel is kind and noble, fans will appreciate this powerful 1930s drama.--------------------- Harriet Klausner
StableMind More than 1 year ago
I expected more from a Pen Faulkner finalist. The story was ridiculously one-sided, the characters one-dimensional and so predictable that it was boring. I only finished the book to see if there were some redeeming quality that made it an award finalist. I couldn't find it...what a disappointing read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow - Not expecting Serena to be the villainess that she was. I did enjoy reading about the history of our logging industry and how unbelievably hard it was for the men who worked in it. Then, just as now, there were the poor, hard-working people, and the very rich who selfishly wanted all the money and power and looked down on the workers. Made me feel sad. But, not much has changed has it? Wouldn't say I would recommnd this book to a friend, but I had to finish it to see what she would do next. Have to say her evilness and selfishness surprised me at the end even though I should have expected it. This was truly a woman without a heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was really good.I can see why they are making it into a movie.Just when you think I know what is going to happen...the ending was a big surprise.
Starspace More than 1 year ago
Compelling, but a tad slow at times Ron Rash has written a great book: interesting, original characters, shocking story, beautifully imagined settings. There are a decent number of "No way!" moments and Ron Rash does not hesitate to make decisions that most authors wouldn't. However, the story, as gripping as it is, starts to lag at points. It picks up right away usually, but certain sections are a bit tedious, especially the sections with Rachel and the sections with the workers. The chapters with Serena and Pemberton are excellent and worth the reading experience. It's a solid read if you are interesting in a good window into another era.
anonymousKC More than 1 year ago
I was not expecting to like this, but I enjoyed it immensely. It was well-written and kept me captivated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much. Highly detailed descriptions brought the book to life. A tale of how greed, jealousy and passion can destroy what is good.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“…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 splash” 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 Serena’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: “The land’s angle became more severe, the light waning, streaked as if cut with scissors and braided to the ridge piece by piece” and “… the land increasingly mountainous, less inhabited, the occasional slant of pasture like green felt woven to a rougher fabric” are two examples.  Rash gives his young mother some insightful observations: “…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 with…the sound of her mother’s voice….the color of her hair……everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure it” and “It struck her how eating was a comfort during a hard time because it reminded you that there had been other days, good days, when you’d eaten the same thing. Reminded you there were good days in life, when precious little else did” 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The description lead me to believe this would be an all consuming book. I had to get to page 246 before I figures out what was going on. The authors writing style is very choppy and hard to follow at times. The best part of the book were the final pages when you found out that Serena was an actual person.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Should be your first Ron Rash book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First book by Ron Rash that I read, hes an amazing author.
FairyB More than 1 year ago
This is once again one of the greats from Ron Rash. He knows how to tell a story. He can make you feel that you are right in there along side the characters and in the setting. Can't wait for another one from Ron!!!!!
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
Ron Rash has beautifully written a compelling tale of greed, murder and destruction. Set in a Smoky Mountains logging camp during the Great Depression, he tells the story of ruthless lumber baron, George Pemberton and his brutally ambitious bride, Serena. The book opens as the newlyweds arrive at the Waynesville, North Carolina train station. They are met by a pregnant former tryst and her vengeful father. Their encounter ends violently, with Serena providing a glimpse of her violent, cruel nature. Greedy for more land and wealth, they will do anything, including murder, to expand their vast lumber empire. Aggressively competing for the land is the U.S. government, eager to preserve it as a national park. As the story unfolds, Serena grows even more vicious, ultimately attempting to murder her husband's young son. Mr. Rash has brilliantly woven real-life historical figures and events with his intriguing fictional characters. His magnificent writing brings the spellbinding story to life. I was truly captivated by the vivid descriptions of the land, the era and the overall feeling of the times. Fascinating Appalachian folklore and insights into the local culture enhance the storyline. The hardships and dangers of a logging camp, and its brutal impact on the environment, are explicitly depicted. I found the complex debate over land use to be very thought-provoking. I absolutely loved this engrossing masterpiece and I highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was a good read, ending was not what I expected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An emotional read full of life and adventure
pinkie63 More than 1 year ago
An interesting, but disturbing love story. Enjoyed it immensely. Easy read. Can't wait to see the movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite book to date. The reason people are rating it so low is because the characters were unlikable which was part of the plot! Dont let your ego stop you from reading this beautifully written book. I would give it a hundred stars if I could. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Something happens about two thirds of the way through and after this, I didn't want to put it down to even eat!! It was recommended to me by a Forest Ranger at a visitor's center near Gatlinburg. I had enjoyed other books based on characters in the Cataloochee area and this one did not let me down.
FriscoBookworm More than 1 year ago
. . . especially if you like historic novels set in the rural South. I found myself more interested in what was happening to the poor young girl left fatherless and with a new baby than in the evil Serena. The only parts that drag are the long conversations between the logging crews - sometimes interesting, sometimes not. And yes, the ending is a bit melodramatic and unbelievable, and you pretty much know it's coming, but it IS fitting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book which I highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is way boring and overdone it is a good book in the sense that the plot was horrid. Just like Fifty Shades of Grey the auhor did outstanding with horrible material I bet Ron Rash would have nailed a good book if he only chose another plot. As for the movie dumb, dumb, dumb. You will know and recognize, bad film making like the back of your hand and you will recognize it in any shape or form (even though the stupidity of Serena will be hard to beat). Two words: avoid the book & movie.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No disrespect to the author, he is a good writer with great discriptive wording, its just I thought this story was really going somewhere and it ended up not delivering. I would have liked to learn more about the girl in the story and where she ended up after escaping from Serena Pemberton. It seems there was no justice for her victims and once she killed everyone off, there was no story after that.