The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons’ intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.
Rash’s masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed.
Macbeth acted as the inspiration for Serena. If you’re wondering how you can translate Scottish madness and monarchy into Southern Depression-era lumberyards, I can tell you Rash does it, and he does it well. Serena herself is a brilliantly executed character – shades of Lady Macbeth are still there, but Serena is her own woman (and honestly, I’m not sure who would win in any kind of fight). Somehow, Rash manages to pull all of the elements that people love about Macbeth and transport them to a new time and place. The supernatural element is there. The revenge is there. The insanity is there. It’s all there, and I just can’t get over it because books like this are why I love reading and writing. Serena is an immersive experience, and it takes a truly talented writer to reconstruct iconic characters into new ones with their own identities and motivations.
An added bonus: Serena will be the next Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Lawrence film adaptation. I am looking forward to seeing both of them just crush it onscreen.