Cover image for Book Club kit : Serena
Title:
Book Club kit : Serena
Edition:
1st Ecco pbk. ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Ecco, 2009, c2008.
ISBN:
9780061470844
Physical Description:
9 bks. (371, 14 p.) ; 21 cm. + 1 discussion guide
Language:
English
General Note:
Reprint. Originally published: 2008.
Holds:

Available:*

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Book Club Kit BOOK CLUB 1 .CIRCNOTE. *****9 BOOKS, 1 DISCUSSION GUIDE*****
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Summary

Summary

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.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Depression-era lumber baron George Pemberton and his callous new wife, Serena, are venality incarnate in Rash's gothic fourth novel (after The World Made Straight), set, like the other three, in Appalachia. George--who coolly kills the furious father of Rachel Harmon, the teenage girl pregnant with George's bastard son--is an imperious entrepreneur laying waste to North Carolina timberland without regard for the well-being of his workers. His evil pales beside that of Serena, however. Rash's depictions of lumber camp camaraderie (despite deadly working conditions) are a welcome respite from Serena's unrelenting thirst for blood and wealth; a subplot about government efforts to buy back swaths of privately owned land to establish national parks injects real history into this implacably grim tale of greed and corruption gone wild--and of eventual, well-deserved revenge. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Rash's short stories and previous novels are all set in Appalachia and enriched by the region's unique history. This is his most gripping work yet, a sweeping saga of unfathomable greed and revenge that grabs the reader's attention from the first page. The Depression-era tale is centered on newly married George and Serena Pemberton, owners of a logging company in the mountains of North Carolina. Their operation is aimed strictly at maximizing profits, with no regard for either the safety of their workers or the future of the land they're pillaging. The tragic result of environmental disregard looms large in all of Rash's fiction, and the Pembertons are his worst villains to date in that respect leaving behind a wasteland of stumps and slash and creeks awash with dead trout. Side plots involve the drastic means, including murder, the couple employs to avoid losing land to environmental groups and Serena's unflagging pursuit of the young girl who bore George's son shortly after he and Serena were married. With a setting fraught with danger, and a character maniacal in her march toward domination and riches, Serena is a novel not soon forgotten.--Donovan, Deborah Copyright 2008 Booklist


Guardian Review

"Give us a lifetime and Mrs Pemberton and I will cut down every tree, not just in Brazil but in the world," declares George Pemberton towards the end of this bitter and brilliant novel. Serena is the fourth novel by Ron Rash, but it's his first to cross the Atlantic. His fiction, which includes several volumes of stories, is usually set in the rural south of the Appalachians; it could sit comfortably on any bookshelf beside Cormac McCarthy or Charles Frazier. He is also a poet, and brings with him the virtues of poetry - concision and linguistic grace . Serena is, by far, his most accomplished work to date. It's a spectacular book, proceeding by visions, as Rash portrays the ruthless urge of the Pembertons to cut down every tree in the world, beginning in North Carolina. The story opens in 1929, as the Great Depression overwhelms a nation. As a novel about the greed that has brought a country to its knees, it critiques the present as well as the past. The novel centres on Serena, who is hardly serene. In the vein of Lady Macbeth or Elena Ceausescu, she plays the role of ruthless, power-hungry woman behind the evil man. She delights in blood-letting, as we see from the outset, in a terrifying scene at the train station. Here is the opening paragraph, which in its lapidary style tells you all you need to know about this novelist's approach to storytelling: "When Pemberton returned to the North Carolina mountains after three months in Boston settling his father's estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a young woman pregnant with Pemberton's child. She was accompanied by her father, who carried beneath his shabby frock coat a bowie knife sharpened with great attentiveness earlier that morning so it would plunge as deep as possible into Pemberton's heart." At once we get the background and setting, the sense of lurking danger, the feeling that Pemberton is a brute who will have his way with those beneath him in the pecking order. Soon enough, Pemberton - who doesn't even know the girl's name - "settles" the matter. His wife has insisted on it: "Get your knife and settle it now, Pemberton." He doesn't so much stab as disembowel the poor grandfather. And so it goes. This couple will let nothing stand in their way as they cut a broad swath through the Carolina hills.Through much of the novel, Serena rides through the forest on her white stallion, in leather jodhpurs and black boots - a one-dimensional creature whose motivations remain elusive. We never learn why exactly she is so driven by greed, although we take for granted that she is. On her arm perches a vicious eagle that has been trained to kill rattlesnakes. Thus summoned, she seems more like a creature of legend than a real person - a symbol, not a human being. Nevertheless, the plot moves with precision, beautifully wrought. The author's acute sense of place is evident on every page. Poetic descriptions abound, as when Pemberton wanders into a valley with one of his henchmen: "They passed a harvested cornfield where a scarecrow rose, wide-armed as if forsaken. A pair of doves fluttered up amid the tatter of broken stalks and shucks, resettled . . . The woods thickened until the road did not so much end as give up, surrendering to scrub oaks and broom sedge." Rash's wonderfully particular descriptions of the natural landscape occur in dramatic, even melodramatic, contexts as Pemberton and Serena become the ultimate survivors. Their predatory instincts come into conflict with the conservationists who would turn their valuable timberlands into a national park. On a more personal level, Serena can't bear the idea that her husband's child - the grandson of the man her husband disembowelled at the outset - may still be alive. She wants him dead at all costs, and this provides a compelling subplot as she tightens her awful grip. The novel serves up plenty of satisfaction for those readers who seek, above all else, a good story. But the dimensions of Serena widen as Ron Rash puts before us an American parable of greed and overweening pride, a Jacobean drama in nearly modern dress. Jay Parini's most recent book is Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (Doubleday). To order Serena for pounds 10.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846. Caption: article-rash.1 The novel centres on [Serena], who is hardly serene. In the vein of Lady Macbeth or Elena Ceausescu, she plays the role of ruthless, power-hungry woman behind the evil man. She delights in blood-letting, as we see from the outset, in a terrifying scene at the train station. Here is the opening paragraph, which in its lapidary style tells you all you need to know about this novelist's approach to storytelling: "When [George Pemberton] returned to the North Carolina mountains after three months in Boston settling his father's estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a young woman pregnant with Pemberton's child. She was accompanied by her father, who carried beneath his shabby frock coat a bowie knife sharpened with great attentiveness earlier that morning so it would plunge as deep as possible into Pemberton's heart." At once we get the background and setting, the sense of lurking danger, the feeling that Pemberton is a brute who will have his way with those beneath him in the pecking order. Soon enough, Pemberton - who doesn't even know the girl's name - "settles" the matter. His wife has insisted on it: "Get your knife and settle it now, Pemberton." He doesn't so much stab as disembowel the poor grandfather. - Jay Parini.


Kirkus Review

The latest from Rash (The World Made Straight, 2006, etc.) is a fine melodrama about a wealthy homicidal couple, latter-day Macbeths, in Depression-era Appalachia. The book is an artful expansion of "Pemberton's Bride," the brilliant standout in Rash's story collection Chemistry (2007). The opening is unforgettable. Pemberton and his bride Serena return from Boston to Waynesville, in the North Carolina mountains. Waiting at the train station is Abe Harmon and his pregnant daughter Rachel. Harmon has vowed to kill her seducer Pemberton, but the latter knifes the drunk old man to death as Serena watches approvingly. Pemberton has no fear of the consequences, for he owns the lumber company on which Waynesville depends and has the local officials on his payroll, all except his nemesis, sheriff McDowell. He has a worthy mate in Serena, daughter of a Colorado lumber baron; her entire family died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. No sentimentalist, she burnt down the family home before moving East. Eventually she too will bloody her hands, killing an innocent and strengthening her bond with Pemberton. The mercilessly exploited workers soon realize she is Pemberton's full partner; his former partner is killed in a hunting "accident." When she saves the life of a foreman, Galloway (felling trees is dangerous work), he becomes her lifelong slave, and hit man; the incompetent doctor who causes Serena to miscarry is just one of Galloway's victims. But the novel is not just a trail of blood. Rash also focuses on the quiet dignity of Rachel (now a single parent raising Jacob, Pemberton's son) and shows an unforced reverence for nature, hideously despoiled by Pemberton's relentless clear-cutting. The lumber king's one soft spot is his feeling for Jacob, but that proves too much for Serena. The last hundred pages are thrilling, as mother and son take flight; McDowell supports them heroically; and Pemberton...well, see for yourself. Should be a breakthrough for this masterful storyteller. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

This is a violent story about ambition, privilege, and ruthlessness played out in an Appalachian timber camp in North Carolina during the Depression. The novel opens with the camp's wealthy owner, George Pemberton, returning from Boston with his new bride, Serena. He is met on a train platform by his business partners--and by camp kitchen worker Rachel, who is carrying his child (and meeting the train with her angry father). When George leaves the platform, Rachel's father is dead, and Rachel herself has been spurned and humiliated. The novel is richly detailed, and many of the characters are skillfully drawn by Rash (The World Made Straight). Unfortunately, though, the Pembertons--who are rapacious and monstrously self-absorbed--often seem one-dimensional and implausible. Serena is particularly hard to believe at times. Still, parts of the novel are superb, particularly the final section when Serena turns violently against Rachel and her son. The Pembertons create a wasteland in these beautiful mountains, and Rash also renders that loss powerfully. Though flawed, this manages to be an engaging read. Recommended for libraries with large fiction collections.--Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Serena Chapter One When Pemberton returned to the North Carolina mountains after three months in Boston settling his father's estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a young woman pregnant with Pemberton's child. She was accompanied by her father, who carried beneath his shabby frock coat a bowie knife sharpened with great attentiveness earlier that morning so it would plunge as deep as possible into Pemberton's heart. The conductor shouted "Waynesville" as the train shuddered to a halt. Pemberton looked out the window and saw his partners on the platform, both dressed in suits to meet his bride of two days, an unexpected bonus from his time in Boston. Buchanan, ever the dandy, had waxed his mustache and oiled his hair. His polished bluchers gleamed, the white cotton dress shirt fresh-pressed. Wilkie wore a gray fedora, as he often did to protect his bald pate from the sun. A Princeton Phi Beta Kappa key glinted on the older man's watch fob, a blue silk handkerchief tucked in his breast pocket. Pemberton opened the gold shell of his watch and found the train on time to the exact minute. He turned to his bride, who'd been napping. Serena's dreams had been especially troubling last night. Twice he'd been waked by her thrashing, her fierce latching onto him until she'd fallen back asleep. He kissed her lightly on the lips and she awoke. "Not the best place for a honeymoon." "It suits us well enough," Serena said, leaning into his shoulder. "We're here together, which is all that matters." Pemberton inhaled the bright aroma of Tre Jur talcum and remembered how he'd not just smelled but tasted its vividness on her skin earlier that morning. A porter strolled up the aisle, whistling a song Pemberton didn't recognize. His gaze returned to the window. Next to the ticket booth Harmon and his daughter waited, Harmon slouching against the chestnut board wall. It struck Pemberton that males in these mountains rarely stood upright. Instead, they leaned into some tree or wall whenever possible. If none was available they squatted, buttocks against the backs of their heels. Harmon held a pint jar in his hand, what remained of its contents barely covering the bottom. The daughter sat on the bench, her posture upright to better reveal her condition. Pemberton could not recall her first name. He wasn't surprised to see them or that the girl was with child. His child , Pemberton had learned the night before Pemberton and Serena left Boston. Abe Harmon is down here saying he has business to settle with you, business about his daughter, Buchanan had said when he called. It could be just drunken bluster, but I thought you ought to know. "Our welcoming party includes some of the locals," Pemberton said to his bride. "As we were led to expect," Serena said. She placed her right hand on his wrist for a moment, and Pemberton felt the calluses on her upper palm, the plain gold wedding band she wore in lieu of a diamond. The ring was like his in every detail except width. Pemberton stood and retrieved two grips from the overhead compartment. He handed them to the porter, who stepped back and followed as Pemberton led his bride down the aisle and the steps to the platform. There was a gap of two feet between the steel and wood. Serena did not reach for his hand as she stepped onto the planks. Buchanan caught Pemberton's eye first, gave him a warning nod toward Harmon and his daughter before acknowledging Serena with a stiff formal bow. Wilkie took off his fedora. At five-nine, Serena stood taller than either man, but Pemberton knew other aspects of Serena's appearance helped foster Buchanan and Wilkie's obvious surprise--pants and boots instead of a dress and cloche hat, sun-bronzed skin that belied Serena's social class, lips and cheeks untinted by rouge, hair blonde and thick but cut short in a bob, distinctly feminine yet also austere. Serena went up to the older man and held out her hand. Though he was, at seventy, over twice her age, Wilkie stared at Serena like a smitten schoolboy, the fedora pressed against his sternum as if to conceal a heart already captured. "Wilkie, I assume." "Yes, yes, I am," Wilkie stammered. "Serena Pemberton," she said, her hand still extended. Wilkie fumbled with his hat a moment before freeing his right hand and shaking Serena's. "And Buchanan," Serena said, turning to the other partner. "Correct?" "Yes." Buchanan took her proffered hand and cupped it awkwardly in his. Serena smiled. "Don't you know how to properly shake hands, Mr. Buchanan?" Pemberton watched with amusement as Buchanan corrected his grip, quickly withdrew his hand. In the year that Boston Lumber Company had operated in these mountains, Buchanan's wife had come only once, arriving in a pink taffeta gown that was soiled before she'd crossed Waynesville's one street and entered her husband's house. She'd spent one night and left on the morning train. Now Buchanan and his wife met once a month for a weekend in Richmond, as far south as Mrs. Buchanan would travel. Wilkie's wife had never left Boston. Pemberton's partners appeared incapable of further speech. Their eyes shifted to the leather chaps Serena wore, the beige oxford shirt and black jodhpurs. Serena's proper diction and erect carriage confirmed that she'd attended finishing school in New En-gland, as had their wives. But Serena had been born in Colorado and lived there until sixteen, child of a timber man who'd taught his daughter to shake hands firmly and look men in the eye as well as ride and shoot. She'd come east only after her parents' deaths. The porter laid the grips on the platform and walked back toward the baggage car that held Serena's Saratoga trunk and Pemberton's smaller steamer trunk. "I assume Campbell got the Arabian to camp," Pemberton said. "Yes," Buchanan said, "though it nearly killed young Vaughn. That horse isn't just big but quite spirited, 'cut proud' as they say." Serena . Copyright © by Ron Rash. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Serena by Ron Rash All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.