Serena
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Serena

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  13,231 ratings  ·  2,289 reviews
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 rattlesnakes, even...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Ecco (first published August 1st 2008)
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karen
THIS IS NOT A FLOAT, KOWALSKI! THIS IS AN ALL-NEW 2012 REVIEW!!

i am alarmed that i only wrote a four-line review of this amazing book. now that i am starting to read the cove, i figure now is as good a time as any to remind this website just how good ron rash is, and how so far, serena is the best of them. (i am only on page 15 of the cove, so this could change)

whenever i try to hand-sell this at work, i will usually just say: "it is like macbeth in a logging community. with a greek chorus." whi...more
Jeanette
I read the first 90 pages of this book and couldn't continue. The writing is excellent, quite impressive, really. But when each chapter brought a new form of cruelty to animals, I had to stop.
Bashing in a raccoon's skull with an axe...Starving a captive eagle to bend it to your will...Baiting a field with corn and apples so you can shoot twelve deer and a bear for sport, then just leave them all piled in the middle of the field to rot after you've killed them...Are you sickened yet? I found mys...more
Will Byrnes
In the primeval woods of North Carolina, young timber baron, George Pemberton, brings his bride, Serena, to live with him in his kingdom. He had been busy enough already, fathering a child with a local girl and clear-cutting wide swaths of land. Serena quickly establishes herself as a power in her own right, knowledgeable about the timber business from her family background in Colorado, frightened of nothing and totally, totally ruthless. She is both an almost deitific figure and a satanic one....more
Elizabeth
Wicked good storytelling.
Wicked.
Good.

Love to see the "power hungry female" fleshed out and OWNING it. Truly unlikeable character(s) in actions and deeds. Business partner not agree with your vision? Hunting accident. Disloyalty? Make an example out of him. The courageous and altruistic? SO DEAD. Strip and rape the land, too. Then move onto another country. Repeat.

Wow. Just wow.
READ IT.
Steve
Strong, resourceful young women are enjoying the spotlight these days in popular fiction. There are enough of them that Jennifer Lawrence can’t possibly play them all in movie versions. Serena qualifies for the club with her street smarts (or its Appalachian equivalent), her initiative, and her poise in the face of danger. Too bad she’s also a bloodthirsty, bad-to-the-bone sociopath.

She and her husband George Pemberton are Depression-era timber barons in North Carolina. We’re introduced to them...more
Catie
Aug 05, 2012 Catie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Catie by: karen
I promised a review of this book this week and it looks like I just made it! Phew. Sunday totally counts, right? I finished this book quite a while ago but as always, life intervened and there was much internet-free gallivanting and acres of sand between my toes and billions of hours of driving last week, all of which conspired to prevent me from writing this review. Here’s a picture of where I was:



(That's not even a random photo that I found on the internet - my brother in law took that. That's...more
Brian
Apr 02, 2014 Brian rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Anthony Vacca
A beautifully crafted novel of a 20th century Lady Macbethian protagonist with eyes on the world's timber, starting in rural North Carolina. Rash paints a vivid picture of a lumber camp and utilizes the sawyers perfectly as the Greek chorus element in the story. The author also has a deft hand at creating characters - both male and female - even minor actors in the story have the heft of an author who knows the craft. The coda presented a plausible and fine ending, but I would have enjoyed the b...more
Grace
I started this book with high hopes, which may have been part of the problem. But the main problem is the paper-thinness of the main characters. Halfway into the book, I was still straining to figure out which name referred to which character, since none of them had been given any distinct personalities.

And I think I'm supposed to admire the main characters, but hate them at the same time since they're fairly heinous? But honestly, I felt nothing besides boredom for them. They were flat and uni...more
Lara
I would give this three & a half stars if I had that option. Sadly, I do not. I feel a bit shmuckish for not enjoying this book more than I did, and after some serious pondering I have come to the conclusion that I would probably have loved this book if I had a Y chromosome.

Seriously.

It's not that it isn't entertaining. I just couldn't really get myself to give two craps about any of the characters. And I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to find any of it realistic. (I mean, seriously? T...more
Arah-Lynda
Did you ever read the right book at the wrong time? Such is my Serena.

On the heels of my previous read, a forever favourite,The Secret History, still occupying way too many rooms in my head, this one felt barren, almost raw, like no one threw a rug on the floor. It all happens hard and fast.

In 1929 newlyweds George and Serena travel from Boston to the North Carolina Mountains where they plan to harvest timber and create an empire. The terrain is relentless, the characters rough and tumble and t...more
Leanne
Jul 31, 2013 Leanne rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Leanne by: karen
Serena is one of the most ruthless, uncompromising, brutal female protagonists I've ever come across. (I could throw in a few more adjectives, but I think three does her just about enough justice). Partway through, I learned this novel was being adapted into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper - I am a big fan of Lawrence, but it will be interesting to see if she has the steel to pull off Serena Pemberton!

Serena focuses mainly on the Pembertons - newlywed timber barons working t...more
Ashley M
I was very excited to read this once I read the plot and saw that it had a great cast attached to it for the film adaptation. Not even halfway through the book, I had to force myself to keep reading and to finish it. I kept thinking 'I'm sure something exciting happens and it gets better!' Alas, it did not.

There was absolutely no character development at all. Before he met Serena, George Pemberton was apparently a bit of a ladies man, however he was apparently completely enamored with Serena fr...more
Melki
For some reason, I was expecting this book to be a genteel romance. Yowza! Was I ever wrong! If Wallace Stegner and James M. Cain somehow begat a twisted progeny, I'm pretty sure this is the book that he would write.
The story begins with lumber baron George Pemberton arriving home with his mysterious new bride, Serena. It quickly becomes apparent that neither of these characters will be winning any humanitarian awards - ever! Pemberton is a swine. He is an individual who sees the beauty of a tr...more
Larry Bassett
I first heard about Ron Rash in the GR group On the Southern Literary Trail when this book Serena was selected as the read of the month. I did not read it when it was chosen but did eventually read a book of his short stories Burning Bright and gave it an enthusiastic five stars.

Serena intrigued me because there were so many comments about the female protagonist that paint her as among the most evil characters in modern literature. I appreciate strong female characters so disliking Serena was...more
judy
I'm glad so many people loved this book because I certainly didn't. Early on I suspected that Serena was an escapee from Ayn Rand. I also pegged her as a really nasty piece of work--amoral, megalomaniac--take your pick. It's not hard to guess how the story will unfold but by page 185 hardly anything has happened (except my loathing for this book). The characters seem stereotyped and wooden. For a Southern book, descriptions of the landscape and terrain are pathetic. Very odd because if this book...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I finally read Ron Rash because he will be at the SC Book Festival this weekend. It looks like this book was even more timely because the movie version is in post-production. (Did I know that? Is that why I chose this book over the others? Or is it because it was $1.99 for Kindle?)

Serena is the story of the Pembertons, a logging tycoon couple that comes home married from Boston in 1929, to a small town in North Carolina where Mr. Pemberton has already impregnated a teenager there. When she and h...more
El
There have been plenty of classic bitches in literature throughout history. Some examples (in no particular order):

-Lady MacBeth from Macbeth. She was pretty wicked.
-That Medea chick was certainly no picnic either.
-Any female character in any Ayn Rand novel, specifically Dagney Taggart from Atlas Shrugged.
-Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca was a bad time too.
-(A personal favorite) Xenia from The Robber Bride - cuckoo!

Obviously there are others, and feel free to include them down in the comments. I'm just...more
Shaun
Ah, Mr. Rash...Pen Faulkner Award for Fiction finalist indeed.

So, whenever I love a book, I always enjoy reading the 1 and 2 star reviews. After all, not every book is for every person. Thank goodness, right? Life would be pretty boring if we all enjoyed/appreciated the same things for the same reasons.

And, honestly, if you are the type of reader who needs a "likeable" protagonist to root for, this isn't the book for you. If you crave tension only to see it resolved in a neat and tidy happy end...more
Arah-Leah Hay
Macbeth in Appalachia! Dark, atmospheric and violent! Serena tells the story of a very ambitious and ruthless leading lady set in the North Carolina mountain logging camp 1929. What Serena wants Serena gets, and if she doesn't, you can be sure the timber industry will. Ron Rash writes rich with language that embodies the landscape. This was truly a marvelous cold calculating villainess ever to grace the pages. This is love gone awry, and it's chalked full of lies, betrayal, revenge and death. I...more
Elise Deal
Jul 13, 2009 Elise Deal rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
Just finished book for second time. It's a literary masterpiece. Ron Rash is not only a great southern writer, but one of the best contermpary writers. This time around I really caught the richness of the secondary characters and how their commentary and observations added to the narrative and the development of the three central characters. As a native North Carolinian, the beautiful description and protrayl of the mountain lndscape, culture and people warmed my heart. Go read this book!!
Carol
Warning! If you do not like ruthless, greedy and revengeful characters, you will not like the story of timber magnates Serena and George Pemberton as they are the epitome of evil to everyone and everything they touch. Set in 1929 North Carolina, they proceed to strip the land with disregard to the environment, treatment of animals or anyone who gets in their way. Starts out with a bang and has a thrilling ending!
Shelby *wants some flying monkeys*
Probably one of the most evil women characters that I've read about. The thing is you can't look away..you have to see what Serena is going to do next. Set in North Carolina before the Great Smokey Mtns. became a state park. Tells the story of greed and what some people will do to see their means to an end. Wonderful book filled with characters that will stay with you.
Jill
Never has a titular character deserved her title as much as Serena in Ron Rash’s Serena. Because Serena Pemberton is everything. She’s intelligent, ambitious, not exactly beautiful, unconventional, and daring; but mostly, she’s ruthless.

It is rare that a book physically affects me, but Serena did. As I rocketed towards the finale, my heart pumped faster and my palms started to sweat. Turning each page felt like the long and low creaking of a door opening in a horror film. There is a suffocating...more
Jen
I think Ayn Rand would stalk Serena and serenade her until the eagle pecked Ayn's eyes out and in the end Ayn would be okay with that. And I would be too.

Ron Rash, this one almost captured me. It is completely my fault I'm sure, but I half-expected Howard Roark to appear out of the shadow of the mountain like the elusive panther. When it didn't happen I was still fine because the backdrop (Cades Cove! Townsend is one of my dream places) was so prominent and there was an Ingledew and Appalachian...more
MaryannC.Book Fiend
Wow!! This was a totally riveting and fantastic read! It's easy to understand why this book was rated 5 stars by many other readers because it is just soooo good!! I wont get into explaining the story because like myself I think you just need to pick this up and find out for yourself just how fantastic this is! Recommended.
Corny
This a Greek tragedy complete with Greek Chorus, set in North Carolina during the Depression. The author is obviously very familiar with the area which now makes up the Great Smokies and tells his story against the background of the National Park Movement. His protagonist is an Electra-like Amazon whose ambition and ruthlessness seem limitless. No one escapes her wrath. In fact, she seemed so one dimensional that her actions were always predictable.
On the other hand, her husband, a much better d...more
Connie
The story opens in 1929 as the newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton arrive back in the North Carolina mountains to oversee their timber empire. The father of Rachel, a young serving woman who is pregnant with Pemberton's child, is waiting with a knife to kill Pemberton. But Serena hands a knife to her husband and the man is quickly disposed of. Serena gives the murder weapon to Rachel saying she should sell it. "That money will help when the child is born," Serena says cooly. "It's all you'll e...more
Laura
Ron Rash has adapted his short story "Pemberton's Wife," which appeared in his collection "Chemistry and Other Stories," to arrive at Serena, a pitch-black gothic novel set in the mountains of North Carolina during the Great Depression. Timber magnate George Pemberton arrives at his Appalachian lumber camp with his new wife, Serena. The two make quite a pair, killing everyone, and I do mean everyone, who gets in the way of their ambitions, which mostly entail clear-cutting every forest they've e...more
Ruth Turner


Well, that was certainly dark.

It's an interesting story and well written, with some genuinely unlikeable characters.

The reason for 4 stars instead of 5 was because it took me a while to get into it. To begin with I struggled to remember which of the minor characters was which.

Definitely not a read to brighten your day. But, as GR reader Elizabeth said..."Wicked good read!" I couldn't put it any better myself.

Thank you Florence (Lefty) for recommending this author.
Melissa
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Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Finalist and New York Times bestselling novel, Serena, in addition to three other prizewinning novels, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; three collections of poems; and four collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other St...more
More about Ron Rash...
The Cove One Foot in Eden Saints at the River Burning Bright: Stories The World Made Straight

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“Then one morning she’d begun to feel her sorrow easing, like something jagged that had cut into her so long it had finally dulled its edges, worn itself down. That same day Rachel couldn’t remember which side her father had parted his hair on, and she’d realized again what she’d learned at five when her mother left – that what made losing someone you loved bearable was not remembering but forgetting. Forgetting the small things first, the smell of the soap her mother had bathed with, the color of the dress she’d worn to church, then after a while the sound of her mother’s voice, the color of her hair. It amazed Rachel how much you could forget, and everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure it. After more time passed you could let yourself remember, even want to remember. But even then what you felt those first days could return and remind you the grief that was still there, like old barbed wire embedded in a tree’s heartwood. (51)” 58 likes
“She realized that being starved for words was the same as being starved for food, because both left a hollow place inside you, a place you needed filled to make it through another day. Rachel remembered how growing up she’d thought living on a farm with just a father was as lonely as you could be. (130)” 19 likes
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