Serena by Ron Rash

serenaIn the early years of the Great Depression, George Pemberton is an aspiring lumber magnate who has acquired extensive land holdings in the North Carolina mountains.  His new bride Serena is even more ambitious than George; she sees no limit to the wealth that they can amass in the mountains or elsewhere, for that matter.

Serena makes quite a stir when she arrives at the logging camp.  Her cool business acumen and her drive for success sets many to wonder – she sets her own exacting standards in the exclusive men’s club of the timber industry.  She also shows the loggers that she is no society dame – she wears pants and oversees certain operations of the camp as well or better than anybody else, and exudes an otherworldly quality apparent to the workers, who treat her with respect, and for some, fear.

Early on in the book, the Pembletons prove themselves ruthless with those who cross them.  Young Rachel Harmon, pregnant with George Pembleton’s child before he meets and marries Serena, is unceremoniously brushed off as not worthy of their consideration; her father, livid with Pemberton’s doings, suffers a quicker fate.

As the tale unwinds, other business partners run afoul of the Pembertons and their relentless drive, and are dealt with summarily.  And as it turns out, Serena is not quite done with Rachel and her child, who bears a definable resemblance to George Pemberton.

The characters in Serena are both fictional and real.  Horace Kephart was an actual person, a driving force behind the creation of the Great Smokies National Park.  In the book, he comes across as a quiet but effective thwart to the Pemberton’s intentions to log the mountains empty of trees.

The book depicts the desperation of the times very well (the never-ending poverty, the ragtag rail riders ever on the look for jobs) and the feel of a logging camp eighty years ago – the grinding monotony and the horrific dangers of such work.  The author also points out the environmental hazards of stripping the mountains of their timber, without thought of replanting or impact on wildlife.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

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