Monday, September 14, 2009

Serena by Ron Rash ***

In the midst of the Great Depression, George Pemberton prospered clear cutting old-growth hardwood forests in the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. During a rare trip to Boston, he met and wed the mysterious Serena, rumored to have been raised in a rich lumbering family in Colorado, and when all her relatives died, she burned down the family home and moved to an New England finishing school. Immediately on the couple's return to North Carolina, George murdered the father of the teenager girl who carried his child - self defense.

Thus starts the story of Serena by Ron Rash. When introduced the the lumberjacks, Serena humiliates and fires the first man who fails to give her the respect she demands. Among supporters of a new National Park, timid partners, rattlesnakes, George's child by his mistress, carnival barkers, and disloyal employees, Serena find many enemies and many ways to get rid of them.

The excellent writing, especially the rich characterization, kept me turning pages waiting for the answer to two questions: Who is Serena? and Who will stop her?

In the end, the first question is never answered, and I found the second answer unsatisfying.

The novel offers a wonderful picture of depression life in Appalachia, well worth the trip even if told from the point of view of the devil herself.

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