Travis Fortney's Reviews > Serena

Serena by Ron Rash
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Aug 16, 12

really liked it

Well this one is well written, and I don't know if I'd ever read a book set in this time and place (Appalachia in the 1930's). Rash certainly makes an effort--largely successful--to raise his setting to the mythical. The Appalachia of Serena is shrouded in darkness and violence, cheats and criminals have risen to a kind of aristocracy, and the only moral code at work is the code of maximized profits, which carries a cost in human life and comes at the expense of natural beauty.

This is all good. Serena could be read as an environmentalist novel, as a story of the 99-percent versus the 1-percent oppressors (it's no contest, because the 1-percenters Rash has invented will take your money, your pride, your home and then your life, at which point they'll move on to your next of kin), or as a psychological character study. Serena is all of these things, but at its core it's an old-fashioned fable, the moral of which seems to be that if you see the likes of Serena in a dark forest or anywhere else, you had best turn the other way and run.

The only problem I had is that Serena herself ended up almost cartoonish. I understand that she's kind of your stereotypical ice queen, and that she's not going to get emotional or explain her actions at the end of the book, but I guess it comes down to surprise. I wanted to be surprised not only by Serena, but by the plot and action.

I think the narrative would have moved naturally toward surprise if Serena had done some of her own dirty work, rather than outsourcing virtually all of it to her henchman Galloway. Not that Galloway isn't a great character. He's creepy, villainous, frightening and memorable. But if Serena had to do her own killing, I think we might have seen deeper into her, just from the natural conflicts that might occur when indiscriminately murdering people.

Ah well. I'll remember Serena and her eagle for quite some time, just as I'll remember the lurking Galloway and the feel the lumber camp. A strong four stars.

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