I loved Serena by Ron Rash except on the nights after binge reading when I woke up from nightmares about jaguars and eagles and death. Yeah, not so much fun that. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is a brutal story, but not one that feels gratuitous like Game of Thrones can at times (After watching the Red Wedding I felt completely punk’d, but that’s a story for another day). It is a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense and, beyond its literary allusions, it is a gripping story.
Set in the Depression era North Carolina mountains, it is the story of a timber empire led by Serena and her new husband, Pemberton, and their machinations to become the most powerful (and frightening) couple in the forest. In so doing they compete with interests that would like to preserve the forests, as well as the surrounding impoverished community that is simultaneously beholden to the Pembertons for income and repulsed by their brutality. From the literary angle, there is a Greek chorus timber crew that comments on the action throughout while simultaneously trying to survive under horrific conditions (cold, falling limbs, death) where nature is an adversary and rarely a friend.
While it is almost impossible (for me at least) to relate to Serena, her husband is a much more sympathetic character. When he attempts to help his illegitimate child, he unfortunately stirs the ire of Serena, which leads the plot to its closing. At the same time that I can’t relate to her as a character, I absolutely loved reading this book and count it as one of my recent favorites. I can’t image Jennifer Lawrence as Serena in the upcoming film, but I will definitely be one of the first to see it. Here’s hoping it’s as good as the book.