It amazed Rachel how much you could forget, and everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure it. After more time passed you could let yourself remember, even want to remember. But even then what you felt those first days could return and remind you the grief was still there, like old barbed wire embedded in a tree’s heartwood.
And now this brown-eyed child. Don’t love it, Rachel told herself. Don’t love anything that can be taken away.
Serena by Ron Rash
384 pages, Ecco, October 2008
I’ll admit, the reason I heard of this book was that I read it was being made into a movie with Jennifer Lawrence, who I have a bit of a crush on. Also, I like American history and period pieces and look at that cover. That’s a gorgeous cover, right there.
However, the book itself won me over. It didn’t need an upcoming movie to market it. It markets itself. Because it’s all kinds of brilliant, and I want you all to grab it and read it and sit curled up with your eyes huge like I did until it’s done wondering “Holy hell, what is Serena going to do next.”
Because if you read it, you’re most definitely going to do that.
George Pemberton, lumber baron, brings his new bride, Serena, to the North Carolina mountains. It’s 1929. Women are still very much seen and not heard. And Serena’s more than seen – she’s tall and blonde and cool, quite a comparison to the women that age too quickly due to hard work and a harder life in the mountains – but she’s to be heard, too. She’s heard without yelling. She doesn’t need to yell. She slowly takes everyone and everything around her in her iron fist and it becomes very clear to the camp who’s really in charge. No one dares stand in her way – because those that do don’t last long. When Serena finds out the one thing she wants more than anything is the one thing she can’t have, she sets her sights on Rachel, the woman who shared George’s bed before she arrived.
This has been mentioned here and there as a retelling of Macbeth. It’s got aspects of the Scottish play, yes. Serena makes a fine Lady Macbeth, and there are the plots and the machinations. There’s even one of the three witches. But honestly, I think you can twist anything into a version of something Shakespearian, if you try hard enough. Let’s just say it’s got Macbethian aspects, and leave it at that. (Not every strong woman is Lady Macbeth, though, people. Even if she’s murderous.)
Here’s what struck me in this book (and a lot of things did, really – but this is what struck me the most, I think) – Rash was not afraid to write a female character with no redeeming qualities. Yet, somehow, you never really hate her. You fear her, sure. But something in you almost ADMIRES her. She’s got this ruthlessness, this implacable streak. She’s a force of nature. She does despicable things, but something about the way she does them makes them seem…fated, somehow? None of the men make a move to stop her (or, if they do, they’re powerless in the face of her.) She’s a woman, competing what is most definitely a man’s world – and she’s not only winning, she’s winning by miles. None of them even compare.
I’m not sure about the casting for the movie. Jennifer Lawrence – maybe. She’s got the acting chops, and I’m interested to see her stretch into a role like this. As much as I like Bradley Cooper, I’m a little wary of this. Pemberton isn’t a pretty playboy. He’s a hardscrabble lumber baron. He’s Serena’s match. But I’ll give it a chance – again, Cooper’s a good actor.
And the stills coming out of the studio are gorgeous. There are some scenes I can’t wait to see on the screen. Ooh, and the COSTUMES. Just LOOK at them.
Do me (and yourself) a favor, though, before seeing it? Read the book. You need the slow burn of this. You need to read this country poetry and wait with bated breath on every word to see, exactly, how far Serena will go…and if she’ll succeed.
Watch Jennifer Lawrence later. Read the book now. You’ll be glad you did.