by Ron Rash


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A New York Times bestseller and PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist, Serena by award-winning author Ron Rash is “masterfully written…sprawling, engrossing and—from time to time—nightmarish,” (San Francisco Chronicle); a remarkable novel that “recalls both John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy,” (The New Yorker). Rash’s chilling gothic tale of greed, corruption, and revenge set against the backdrop of the 1930s wilderness and America’s burgeoning environmental movement was named a Best Book of the Year by more than a dozen national publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and Miami Herald. Serena is brilliant contemporary fiction that exquisitely balances beauty and violence, passion and rage, cruelty and love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061470844
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/29/2009
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 371
Sales rank: 339,402
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestseller Serena and Above the Waterfall, in addition to four prizewinning novels, including The Cove, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; four collections of poems; and six collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. Twice the recipient of the O. Henry Prize, he teaches at Western Carolina University.

What People are Saying About This

Richard Price

“A gorgeous, brutal writer.”

Lee Smith

“Ron Rash’s SERENA will stand as one of the major American novels of this century. It is a flat-out masterpiece-mythic, terrifying, and beautiful.”

David Wroblewski

“From the moment she steps off the train, Serena Pemberton commands center stage in Ron Rash’s rough-hewn tale of unchecked ambition. Universal in scope, frightening in its brutality, Serena is an unflinching vision of blighted souls played out against the backdrop of a nearly-lost Appalachia.”

Anna Quindlen

“Beautifully written, utterly unforgettable. To my mind, this novel, as powerful and inexorable as a thunderstorm, is as good a piece of fiction as was published last year and a new classic in the category of love gone terribly wrong.”

Jeffrey Lent

“Rash is a storyteller of the highest rank and SERENA confirms this from the opening sentence to the final page. An epic achievement.”

Pat Conroy

“Ron Rash’s new novel Serena catapults him to the front ranks of the best American novelists. This novel will make a wonderful movie, and the brave actress who plays Serena is a shoe-in for an Academy Award nomination.”

Julia Glass

“[Rash] has outdone himself. The story of this brilliant, ambitious, seductive woman is a searing tragedy of Shakespearean proportions—or, in simpler terms, a damn good book that will keep you awake far too late and, well after you’ve finished it, haunt your dreams.”

Customer Reviews

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Serena 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 113 reviews.
BekahNC More than 1 year ago
First, this is a very good book. Being a native of the area the book is set in and hearing my grandparents talk about logging in the area made it even better for me. Serena is a captivatingly evil character. A friend loaned me the book and I liked it so much I bought a copy, then a copy for my nook. This is my favorite quote from the book. "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." I was very perturbed to find it missing from the e-book. The quote is simply not there. This makes me wander what else I might be missing in my collection of e-books.
catpaw More than 1 year ago
This dramatic story of an ambitious, beautiful woman who manages her husband's timber holdings in the Smokies in a ruthlessly aggressive manner has an epic sweep. It is intricately plotted and beautifully written - I savoured the language and the Appalachian cadences of the workers (who also act as a sort of Greek chorus, an effective device), and the descriptions of the mountains and the harsh conditions of the times (1930s), as well as fascinating detail on the lives and hard times of the workers themselves. About a third of the way through the book the exposition started to become sort of biblical: the bad people were REALLY bad, the powerless and meek completely so, and the killings started to mount up - to the extent that it all became somewhat cartoonish, like the boulder continually squashing Wile E. Coyote. In that sense it became a "he said, she said" kind of book, which is a shame, because a lot of loving work had obviously been put into researching the period and the logging industry of the time, and those sections of the book that did not topple over into high melodrama were exceptional. However, the single trait that defined each character ensured they remained two-dimensional and ultimately drove the plot down a predictable path.
Guest More than 1 year ago
During the Depression in Appalachia, wealthy lumber baron George Pemberton returns from Boston to Waynesville, North Carolina accompanied by his new wife, the orphan Serena. Waiting for him to disembark from the train is his sycophant partners, pregnant teenage kitchen hand Rachel Harmon and her outraged father. A drunken Harmon demands Pemberton take care of the child he sired. Instead encouraged by Serena, George kills him as he knows he is above the law.-------------- Pemberton destroys the land and its people and his wife Serena is as evil and avaricious as he is. She insures Rachel is scorned by everyone and that the brat once born remains the bastard he or she is. Meanwhile Serena also obtains the undying loyalty of foreman Galloway whose life she saved he becomes her slave willing to kill anyone if she asks however George actually likes having a son adoring Jacob and angering his wife.-------------- This is an intriguing look at the Depression from various perspectives. Especially fascinating is the poignant glimpse at horrific working conditions that make a case for a strong OSHA and yet in spite of the danger of death and maim the workers have forged a club like solidarity (mindful of soldiers in war conditions). Although the key cast is stereotyped the Pembertons especially Serena are evil caricatures of the abuse of wealth while in contrast poor single mom Rachel is kind and noble, fans will appreciate this powerful 1930s drama.--------------------- Harriet Klausner
StableMind More than 1 year ago
I expected more from a Pen Faulkner finalist. The story was ridiculously one-sided, the characters one-dimensional and so predictable that it was boring. I only finished the book to see if there were some redeeming quality that made it an award finalist. I couldn't find it...what a disappointing read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow - Not expecting Serena to be the villainess that she was. I did enjoy reading about the history of our logging industry and how unbelievably hard it was for the men who worked in it. Then, just as now, there were the poor, hard-working people, and the very rich who selfishly wanted all the money and power and looked down on the workers. Made me feel sad. But, not much has changed has it? Wouldn't say I would recommnd this book to a friend, but I had to finish it to see what she would do next. Have to say her evilness and selfishness surprised me at the end even though I should have expected it. This was truly a woman without a heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was really good.I can see why they are making it into a movie.Just when you think I know what is going to happen...the ending was a big surprise.
Starspace More than 1 year ago
Compelling, but a tad slow at times Ron Rash has written a great book: interesting, original characters, shocking story, beautifully imagined settings. There are a decent number of "No way!" moments and Ron Rash does not hesitate to make decisions that most authors wouldn't. However, the story, as gripping as it is, starts to lag at points. It picks up right away usually, but certain sections are a bit tedious, especially the sections with Rachel and the sections with the workers. The chapters with Serena and Pemberton are excellent and worth the reading experience. It's a solid read if you are interesting in a good window into another era.
anonymousKC More than 1 year ago
I was not expecting to like this, but I enjoyed it immensely. It was well-written and kept me captivated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much. Highly detailed descriptions brought the book to life. A tale of how greed, jealousy and passion can destroy what is good.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“…the work bell rang. The men left so quickly their cast-down forks and spoons seemed to retain a slight vibration, like pond water rippling after a splash” Serena is the fourth novel by American author, Ron Rash. The mountains of North Carolina in the early 1930s were the scene of competing land grabs: timber getters like George Pemberton who were determined to make their fortunes clear-felling the slopes; miners like Harris who stripped the denuded land of its minerals; and the government, funded by wealthy patrons like Rockerfeller and Vanderbilt, committed to creating National Parks. Logging in this remote wilderness presented many hazards but the Depression ensured that labour was cheap and plentiful.  It is against this background that Rash sets the story of Serena, newly wed to Pemberton and intent on proving herself equal to any worker in this dangerous place. From the first she shows herself to be extremely capable, but also single-minded, calculating, fiercely possessive and completely ruthless. When she perceives a threat to her business or her marriage, she acts without hesitation, fear or favour. The story is told from three perspectives: George Pemberton, thoroughly enthralled by Serena; sixteen-year-old Rachel Harmon, mother of a son to Pemberton; and foreman Snipes, gauging the mood of his crew of sawyers and offering perceptive comments on their suspicions & superstitions. Rash gives the reader an original plot, a story that ticks along steadily, eliciting occasional gasps at Serena’s despicable actions, until it builds to a gripping climax. His characters are multi-faceted; he includes many interesting historical facts and his love of the North Carolina landscape and the mountain dwellers is apparent in the wonderful descriptive prose: “The land’s angle became more severe, the light waning, streaked as if cut with scissors and braided to the ridge piece by piece” and “… the land increasingly mountainous, less inhabited, the occasional slant of pasture like green felt woven to a rougher fabric” are two examples.  Rash gives his young mother some insightful observations: “…what made losing someone you loved bearable was not remembering but forgetting. Forgetting the small things first, the smell of soap her mother had bathed with…the sound of her mother’s voice….the color of her hair……everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure it” and “It struck her how eating was a comfort during a hard time because it reminded you that there had been other days, good days, when you’d eaten the same thing. Reminded you there were good days in life, when precious little else did” Rash has once again produced a brilliant novel, and his fans will not be disappointed. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood does with this riveting tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The description lead me to believe this would be an all consuming book. I had to get to page 246 before I figures out what was going on. The authors writing style is very choppy and hard to follow at times. The best part of the book were the final pages when you found out that Serena was an actual person.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Should be your first Ron Rash book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First book by Ron Rash that I read, hes an amazing author.
FairyB More than 1 year ago
This is once again one of the greats from Ron Rash. He knows how to tell a story. He can make you feel that you are right in there along side the characters and in the setting. Can't wait for another one from Ron!!!!!
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
Ron Rash has beautifully written a compelling tale of greed, murder and destruction. Set in a Smoky Mountains logging camp during the Great Depression, he tells the story of ruthless lumber baron, George Pemberton and his brutally ambitious bride, Serena. The book opens as the newlyweds arrive at the Waynesville, North Carolina train station. They are met by a pregnant former tryst and her vengeful father. Their encounter ends violently, with Serena providing a glimpse of her violent, cruel nature. Greedy for more land and wealth, they will do anything, including murder, to expand their vast lumber empire. Aggressively competing for the land is the U.S. government, eager to preserve it as a national park. As the story unfolds, Serena grows even more vicious, ultimately attempting to murder her husband's young son. Mr. Rash has brilliantly woven real-life historical figures and events with his intriguing fictional characters. His magnificent writing brings the spellbinding story to life. I was truly captivated by the vivid descriptions of the land, the era and the overall feeling of the times. Fascinating Appalachian folklore and insights into the local culture enhance the storyline. The hardships and dangers of a logging camp, and its brutal impact on the environment, are explicitly depicted. I found the complex debate over land use to be very thought-provoking. I absolutely loved this engrossing masterpiece and I highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was a good read, ending was not what I expected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An emotional read full of life and adventure
pinkie63 More than 1 year ago
An interesting, but disturbing love story. Enjoyed it immensely. Easy read. Can't wait to see the movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite book to date. The reason people are rating it so low is because the characters were unlikable which was part of the plot! Dont let your ego stop you from reading this beautifully written book. I would give it a hundred stars if I could. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Something happens about two thirds of the way through and after this, I didn't want to put it down to even eat!! It was recommended to me by a Forest Ranger at a visitor's center near Gatlinburg. I had enjoyed other books based on characters in the Cataloochee area and this one did not let me down.
FriscoBookworm More than 1 year ago
. . . especially if you like historic novels set in the rural South. I found myself more interested in what was happening to the poor young girl left fatherless and with a new baby than in the evil Serena. The only parts that drag are the long conversations between the logging crews - sometimes interesting, sometimes not. And yes, the ending is a bit melodramatic and unbelievable, and you pretty much know it's coming, but it IS fitting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book which I highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read. Couldn't put it down.
Jim53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rash's latest is a near miss, one of those novels that has many strengths but can't quite support them all. Logging baron George Pemberton returns to his logging camp in western Norrth Carolina with a new bride, Serena. She is not what everyone expects of a woman in the 1930s. She rides a horse like a man, trains a pet eagle, and supervises teams of loggers in their work. Rash does a wonderful job with imagery: Serena with her eagle, loggers being killed by falling branches, the poverty of Rachel, the girl whom George had impregnated before his trip, and their son, whom Serena will not let him acknowledge. Many scenes are vivdly described.Except for Pemberton's shooting of a weak partner during a hunt, we don't see the first few evil acts that Serena directs; we hear of them afterwards, mentioned or described by a group of loggers, who function as a Greek chorus, commenting on the actions of the Pembertons. Things progress and escalate, as the Pembertons seem to have all the local politicians on their payroll and feel free to knock off anyone who opposes them. One of their main concerns is the impending creation of Smoky Mountain State Park (also an issue in Cataloochee, which I read this year), and they hurry to log and despoil the area before the land can be seized by the state.Serena is a wonderfully detailed portrait of an avaricious woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, and essentially controls her husband. The problem is that we get no idea of how she bacame that way. We know that her family was killed by a common illness, and that she had their home burned to the ground, but this isn't enough to show us how a bright, assertive, capable woman became so conscienceless and evil. Giving us more of her development would have made this a truly wonderful book.The style is for the most part descriptive and a pleasure to read. The story moves along quickly. Rash does a nice job with the dialog of the loggers and the locals, and he paints a detailed picture of the locale.
amandacb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I agree that this book is exceptionally tedious. I could not care less about the characters. The writing is bland. In fact, I had to read a few reviews and read the synopsis to even remember a slive of what this book was about, and I only read it a year ago. Definitely one to skip.