Hardcover: 9780061470851, HarperCollins, $24.95
Paperback: 9780061470844, HarperCollins, $14.99
Serena blew my mind a bit.
You wouldn’t think upon first picking up a book about a timber empire in North Carolina during the years leading up to the Great Depression that it would be a gripping read for anyone other than a history buff. Yet the cast of characters and the stark reality of Ron Rash’s writing creates a compelling and bone-chilling story.
The absolute lack of morality and concern for anyone other than herself makes Serena a heinous individual. You want to hate her, but her intelligence and self-possession make her fascinating. In a harsh land, building a harsh timber empire, Serena is a beautiful, feminine, immovable steel rod who has a blow as heavy as one of the trees felled by her timber crews. Recently married to owner George Pemberton, Serena is as obsessed with power and the unplumbed Brazilian forests, as George is with her. Together they form an nearly unstoppable team of knowledge, money, and Serena’s ruthlessness. If someone stands in their way, they will be taken down – whether by a swift knife across the throat, a hunting “accident”, or Serena’s right-hand man who always gets his prey.
An unnerving subplot involves George Pemberton’s illegitimate child, mothered by a local mountain girl, conceived prior to George’s marriage to Serena, but birthed afterward. Distracted by her ambitions in other directions, Serena does not focus on the mother and child until later in the book. Then, for reasons of her own, Serena turns her obsession toward them – and it is time for them to die.
Much like the trees now clogging the riverways, Serena will cut down everything in her path: Teddy Roosevelt’s plan for a national forest, a local sheriff who is the only man with backbone enough to stand up to her, and the mother and child who retain a claim on the man and the empire that must be solely hers. Serena doesn’t share; she takes, eliminates, and possesses.
A frighteningly compelling read, you won’t want to put it down until you find out how, why, and who is the next to die.