When I started writing this blog, I knew that I’d be giving my unsolicited opinion about the books I chose to read. It’s my outlet for creativity and a way to challenge myself to read more diverse things. So when I created my rating system, I basically assigned numbers to the phrases that I use to tell people about the books I was already reading. Did you like that book? Oh yeah, I’d totally read it again! What did you think of this one? Not really my favorite, but if you liked that other one, you’ll probably like this one… These are the kinds of things I say when I talk about books so I just gave them a number 5-1. This week I struggled to rate the book because, while it wasn’t my favorite, I could think of several people that I think would enjoy the book and therefore I’d recommend it. What to do? Well, I’ll try to give you my most honest opinion, tell you who I think will really like this book, and maybe compare it to something else for a frame of reference.
Book # 19- Serena, Ron Rash
Synopsis: After Black Friday, the country is suffering; businesses are failing and people need jobs. But in the mountains of North Carolina, the timber business is booming; men can get jobs cutting or milling logs, women can work in camp kitchens. It’s hard and dangerous work, but it’s a paying job. George Pemberton considers himself lucky to be at the top. He is a partner in a lumber company and he is bringing his new bride from Boston to the camp to start their lives in business together. Serena isn’t like the other wives; she is up with the cutting crews, wearing pants and riding horseback to the tops of the clearings to make sure the men are working their best. She makes bets with even the most seasoned crewmen about the board length of a tree, handles wild animals and isn’t afraid to get dirty. She has ambitions for a future, logging mahogany in Brazil, and a past that she hides from everyone. Serena is a woman who knows what she wants and doesn’t let anything stand in her way.
As Serena and Pemberton plan their future timber empire, it’s get on board or get out of the way. Unless you’d have them show you the way out…
My Impressions: I have mixed feelings about this book. It wasn’t badly written, but it wasn’t a work of great prose. The story wasn’t captivating, but it moved along quickly with just enough intrigue to keep me reading. There was a lot of detail about logging, often at the beginning of chapters or sections, and it usually led up to an account of an accident where someone was hurt or killed. But then there wasn’t a very clear reason for each of these accounts. It’s almost as if they were used to mark time; ‘right around the time that so-and-so was killed, this other things happened too…’ And A LOT of people die in this book! Sorry if thats a spoiler, but anyone who makes it past the first 3 pages can tell that people will die and other people will be very blasé about it.
I think I found the setting to be the most interesting part of the book. The mountain terrain, the lumber camps, the poverty in the back woods. And the time period adds interest to the story as well. Not only the typical depression era concerns of economic despair, but also the development of national parks and concern for deforestation. There are the societal differences between the classes and gender roles. But it’s ultimately the culture of the lumber camp that provides the most drama for the story.
Then there is the relationship between Serena and Pemberton. She calls him Pemberton. Nothing else. She is a very, very strong woman, and he is in awe of her strength. It’s not that he is a weak man. But she is so strong, so dominant, that he is simply in her shadow. This will be a movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and I’m sure they will both play the roles wonderfully. But if I were going to describe this marriage, I think it’s more analogous to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Or Kris and Bruce Jenner. I mean, he won an Olympic Decathlon, but we know who wears the pants… At any rate, If Serena’s yellin’ timber, you’d better move, and she’s one you won’t forget!
Why you should read it: Obviously it wasn’t my favorite, but I would recommend it to my Dad, who likes a good “shoot-em’-up” or back hills kind of story. And if someone said, “I like fiction, but darker and not so frilly,” I’d probably think of this book first. It’s not something that I usually read, and I’m glad to get out of my pajama books now and then, but I’m probably going to enjoy the movie a little more than I enjoyed this book.
Read if you liked: A Song of Fire and Ice (series), The Grapes of Wrath, Cold Mountain, Gone Girl.
Book #19 in the Bag!
“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it…” ― Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies