Book Review: Serena by Ron Rash

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It is the slightly off-kilter, dark tone of this book that mesmerizes. Set in the year 1929, in the North Carolina mountains, George Pemberton arrives on a train from Boston with his cultured new wife, Serena. It is a rough-hewn, brass tacks timber camp dedicated to clearing the region of its trees for financial gain that Serena enters and assumes control. The daughter of a timber man from Colorado, Serena knows the business better than most men, and uses her wits and wiles to manipulate affairs to her liking as she plots to expand the business. With a mysterious background to her credit, both George and the reader come to know Serena through her ruthless, self-serving dealings; nothing is beneath her pursuit of expansion: no morals, ethics, nor even the law. In short order, George Pemberton becomes a man caught in a web, yet is so enamored of his wife, he is willing to go along as events spin out of his control and lead to the ultimate betrayal. This is the fifth book I have read by the author, Ron Rash, and I find his voice unlike any other. Ron Rash is a writer gifted with the poetics of economy. His settings exist in society’s underworld, which he compliments through the use of  language so pitch perfect in regional colloquialism it gives you the characters background and explains their individual mind-set.  Ron Rash’s Serena is a villain for the ages; she is canny, single-minded, attractive, and dangerous. This bone-chilling story is both  gripping and blind-siding. It is another fine example of Ron Rash’s deft handling of the darker notes of self-preservation at any cost.

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