Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Timber Baroness: Serena

Heading down the twisted, dark road of Serena by Ron Rash is a fun ride, but prepare yourself for a female protagonist who is hard to love, yet kind of awesome. As I toted around Serena in the break room I heard many comments from coworkers who said things along the lines of “I couldn't continue reading because Serena is so terrible” or “I just didn’t like her.” What does one do when the main character in a novel is despicable? Well sometimes you give up, but sometimes you jump on that thrill ride and see where the human savagery takes you. Welcome to the world of timber baron and baroness, George and Serena Pemberton.

1929, the US is at the bottom of the financial heap. However, for newlyweds Serena and George Pemberton, the world is ready to be cut down to size. George owns timber lands in North Carolina and his bride, Serena, happens to be from a timber background in Colorado. They are the perfect match and Serena makes her impression upon the camp from the start. She rides out on her white Arabian horse with the men giving instruction and advice, she trains an eagle to kill rattle snakes that hide in the woods, and she saves men’s lives. Soon, she becomes a living legend. The men speak of her with awe and are careful not to offend her. The name Serena seems a bit off for a woman who is exacting and Biblical in her awards and punishments. Serena does not let transgressions against her, her husband, or their company go unheeded. George and Serena lord over their camp and exact revenge upon any who threaten them. Serena will not stop her crusade to make her and George’s empire perfect, even going as far as hunting down George’s illegitimate son and his mother.

When I began this novel all I thought was ‘wow she’s a hard, awe-inspiring woman’. Serena was so independent and cunning. She always knows what to say or what not to say and she is not afraid to get dirty. Honestly, Serena is more like a typical male figure than a female figure because she does not use her emotions as a guide. Everything is black and white to her. You did something to defy the Pemberton power, you die. You show you're faithful and loyal, you live. Fire and brimstone stuff. Very Old Testament.

After I finished this book I put it down and thought my coworkers were kind of right. Serena is a hard woman to like. That’s not the point as far as I’m concerned though. This is a book about a woman who, throughout her life, lives as a legend. She does not live as a gender stereotype, but as a living idol. Her name becomes legend, but that legend is not a beautiful one. Love her, hate her, or if you’re just in awe of her, Serena makes for a fascinating character study. Warning: there is a good amount of violence.

If you want a book with excellent writing, strong characters, and you like some violence then pick up Serena. Do it soon before the film comes out with Jennifer Lawrence. Oh man she’s going to act the poop out of this one!

~Kristin M.

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