Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: "Serena" by Ron Rash

I love the country noir genre, and despite its flaws, I found Serena by Ron Rash to be a near perfect edition to this kind of story that is growing in popularity, more so with the upcoming movie adaption starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. While it has it’s violent moments, this novel is more in line with something Tom Franklin would write, in that it is more about the characters and the unique setting than the plot, and for a writer like Rash, he is right at home in the early 20th century setting, and he makes his character’s quite believable, even when the happenings in the story become almost biblical in execution and emotional weight. The story opens in a train station, where a newlywed couple, George Pemberton, and his wife, the almost omnipotent Serena, arrive in small logging community in North Carolina. When they get off the train, Abe Harmon, whose daughter, Rachel, is siring his illegitimate child from a time before he met Serena, accosts them at the train station as they are arriving. George kills him in a knife fight, a callous scene reminiscent of the opening kill in Daniel Woodrell’s Woe to Live On, and shows how ruthless Serena is in her love of George and ambition. Through a series of orchestrated deaths, Serena and George claim the land for their own, despite the encroachment of the government, who want to turn it into a national park. The political; aspect account for most of the dull moments in the book, and makes the motivation of Serena and George a bit murky. But Serena still comes off as one of the coldest women I have come across in book, made more so by the innocence in Rachel and her child. With a few gory scenes, such as an attack by a mountain lion, and pretty nasty death involving logs and a river, along with the best ending I have read sense Philipp Meyer’s The Son, this a pretty solid piece of American writing.

Rating: 4/5

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