Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Serena, by Ron Rash

My son bought me a Kindle for Christmas.  I love it!  I didn't think I would, but I do.  Unfortunately, I am really swamped with reading for work right now.  I am reading Little Dorrit.  It was free! 

But the first book I downloaded (and it wasn't free) was Serena, by Ron Rash.  I had not read any of his work before but had read reviews of this book. 

If we have to talk about books or movies in reference to other works, I would call this "the story of Sarah and Abraham and Hagar meets MacBeth meets Cormac McCarthy meets ....well, something Appalachian and environmentalist.  I like that he puts the story against the backdrop of the establishment of the Smoky Mountain Park, and his writing is impeccable.  Beautiful.  But as a friend said, it's rough.

A Bostonian, Pemberton, owns a lumber operation in the North Carolina mountains.  He brings home his new bride, Serena.  She is beautiful but mannish; a horsewoman; the daughter of a lumberman from Colorado; ruthless and cruel.  She rapes the land and rapes the lives of everyone around her who gets in the way.  She saves the life of one of the workmen who becomes her henchman; her henchman's mother has mysterious powers of second sight.  Her goal is to cut every tree in western North Carolina, make as much money as she can, and then move herself and her husband to Brazil to destroy those forests, too.

She becomes pregnant but loses the baby, almost losing her life in the miscarriage.  She will not have another child.  But there is another strain to this story of ambition.  Before their marriage, Pemberton impregnated a poor mountain girl who manages to survive the killing of her father (by Pemberton) and great privation to raise the baby, a boy who looks just like Pemberton. 

I thought the story would go that Serena would try to get the baby from the young girl.  Was I wrong.  So I won't go any further.  I would recommend the book for its gripping story and beautiful invoking of character themes from earlier literature, and because of the historical accuracy (I recently read a well-documented book on the opening of the park).  But it is rough.  Serena's cruelty and impunity stretches believability at time, but we are not in Serena's mind--we are in her husband's mind, whose ambition does not match hers and who finds himself being swept away, and in that of her "rival," the young mountain girl. 

It's a wild ride, and justice, in a sense, prevails. 

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