Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review: Serena by Ron Rash (fiction)

Publication Date: 2008


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.

Penny's take - 4/5☆

I just recently finished the book, Serena by Ron Rash. I was interested in reading this book because Joshua informed me that this was going to be made into a movie starring everyone's favorite vixen, Angelina Jolie. The novel focuses on the Pembertons, a newly wed couple building their timber/lumber empire in North Carolina. They bully and coerce their way to the top, leaving a trail of blood behind them. When Serena (the wife) goes after George's (the husband) illegitimate child, who was conceived prior to Serena, things get complicated and very exciting.

I liked the backdrop of the story, pre-war, small mountain town in North Carolina. I also liked the characters. Serena is a very strong female character, who's knowledge of the timber business and hunting/training skills are unmatched by any man. George's position is difficult, he has a wife he loves and obeys but he also has a child he has a very, very mild soft spot for--the child not conceived with Serena however. The storytelling is greatly paced though I found at times a bit slow and that may only be because I don't care much about the tree cutting industry. This is a recommend.

Joshua's take - 4/5☆

Why I picked up the book - because I heard that director Darren Aronofsky's is developing a big-screen adaptation of this book staring Angelina Jolie as the main character Serena and I thought, "holy crap."

Stunning, simply stunning. Reading Serena is like watching a Hitchcock film, you have a sense of dread, you know somethings lurking just outside the camera vision, things break and tip, and your dread keeps building as Hitchcock plays with the filmatic devices at his disposal, prolonging the tension until the final nail comes down, bringing your emotions to a crescendo of relief and horror.

I'm not generally a fan of contemporary literature. I've always found them somewhat of a chore, as the narrative weaves in and out of heartbreaking sob story, to tragic family escapades. Give me a classic and you'll find a man in deep concentration with a smile from ear to ear. However author Ron Rash is an amazing writer. He's able to convey so much emotion in so few words, that his writing reminds me of Melville, or Rash's contemporary, Cormac McCarthy, sparse yet elegant. While I do find McCarthy a better writer than Rash, I find Rash's style lends itself to a more enjoyable read.

Serena is a beautifully tragic and heartbreaking story, however not in the way one may think. It's really the story of two young women living in the early 1900's and how they cope with the times. One raising a young child alone and penniless and another rich, stomping across anyone who gets in her way. It's about the duality of nature, of nurture and destruction. Serena is one of the most disturbing modern villains because everything she does, she does for a reason, with the unwavering belief that what she is doing is right and for the best. In truth, what I like so much about this book is that while it's written by a man, populated by men, the two women in the story are the one's who hold the most sway, hold the destinies of the other men in the actions that they take- fortunes rise and fall because of them.

This is a must read for anyone looking for a taut thriller with literary aspirations. Read it before the movie comes out

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