Serena, Ron Rash


A kind of annihilation, was what Serena called their coupling, and though Pemberton would never have thought to describe it that way, he knew her words had named the thing exactly.

If you’ve heard of Serena, I think it mostly likely might be because it is a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper that has just came out.  As excited as I am to see J-Law and B-Coo (?) reunite on the screen, I was really excited to read the book first.  Set in the 1930’s, Serena,  by Ron Rash, follows a man named Pemberton and his return to North Carolina to his logging camp, accompanied by his new wife Serena.  A fierce couple, Serena and Pemberton strive to build their timber empire, ruthless against anyone who gets in their way; meanwhile sixteen year-old Rachel Harmon struggles to raise her baby, fathered by Pemberton before his marriage to Serena.  When an accident occurs and Serena is unable to conceive a child, she becomes obsessed with murdering Pemberton’s only living child.

Ron Rash paints a story that is dark, as if it were literally written in the shadows of the towering trees of the North Carolinian forests.  While reading it I feel like I could actually smell the musty, pine-needled-blanketed smell of a forest; this place of tremendous growth in the highest branches and deprivation on the forest floor, mirroring the world of Pemberton and Serena as they reach for the loftiest dreams, and Rachel and the logging workers who struggle to scrape by.  It’s a darkly romantic era, hopeless for any reader like myself to not fall in love with.  The characters are similar – dark and twisted and romantic; some who cannot succeed against a world that is falling down upon them, like the trees of Pemperton’s forest; some who dare to walk the the line between the moral and the immoral, risking it all if they stumble; and some who deliberately cross over that line and never look back.

Now Kathleen is my neighbour from across the hall.  She hails from Florida, having recently acquired a Library Sciences Master’s degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill just this August.  This is her third time living at the International Student House; she’s interned at the Library of Congress, the White House Library, and the State Department, so needless to say she knows her way around D.C. pretty well and also books for that matter.  I come to her with all my D.C. questions, and naturally I thought of her when I started this competition.  Kathleen reads with a soft rasp I really love, and think is so fitting for this novel, a novel with strength found in its vulnerabilities, beauty found in the cracks.

Books Read: 5


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