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Serena: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – September 29, 2009
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The Daughter of Union County
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Rash's masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed.
The Gift of Silence: An Essay by Ron Rash
When readers ask how I came to be a writer, I usually mention several influences: my parents’ teaching by example the importance of reading; a grandfather who, though illiterate, was a wonderful storyteller; and, as I grew older, an awareness that my region had produced an inordinate number of excellent writers and that I might find a place in that tradition. Nevertheless, I believe what most made me a writer was my early difficulty with language.
My mother tells me that certain words were impossible for me to pronounce, especially those with j’s and g’s. Those hard consonants were like tripwires in my mouth, causing me to stumble over words such as “jungle” and “generous.” My parents hoped I would grow out of this problem, but by the time I was five, I’d made no improvement. There was no speech therapist in the county, but one did drive in from the closest city once a week.
That once a week was a Saturday morning at the local high school. For an hour the therapist worked with me. I don’t remember much of what we did in those sessions, except that several times she held my hands to her face as she pronounced a word. I do remember how large and empty the classroom seemed with just the two of us in it, and how small I felt sitting in a desk made for teenagers.
I improved, enough so that by summer’s end the therapist said I needed no further sessions. I still had trouble with certain words (one that bedevils me even today is “gesture”), but not enough that when I entered first grade my classmates and teacher appeared to notice. Nevertheless, certain habits of silence had taken hold. It was not just self-consciousness. Even before my sessions with the speech therapist, I had convinced myself that if I listened attentively enough to others my own tongue would be able to mimic their words. So I listened more than I spoke. I became comfortable with silence, and, not surprisingly, spent a lot of time alone wandering nearby woods and creeks. I entertained myself with stories I made up, transporting myself into different places, different selves. I was in training to be a writer, though of course at that time I had yet to write more than my name.
Yet my most vivid memory of that summer is not the Saturday morning sessions at the high school but one night at my grandmother’s farmhouse. After dinner, my parents, grandmother and several other older relatives gathered on the front porch. I sat on the steps as the night slowly enveloped us, listening intently as their tongues set free words I could not master. Then it appeared. A bright-green moth big as an adult’s hand fluttered over my head and onto the porch, drawn by the light filtering through the screen door. The grown-ups quit talking as it brushed against the screen, circled overhead, and disappeared back into the night. It was a luna moth, I learned later, but in my mind that night it became indelibly connected to the way I viewed language--something magical that I grasped at but that was just out of reach.
In first grade, I began learning that loops and lines made from lead and ink could be as communicative as sound. Now, almost five decades later, language, spoken or written, is no longer out of reach, but it remains just as magical as that bright-green moth. What writer would wish it otherwise.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
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Top Customer Reviews
The very first paragraph of the novel (and short story) quickly set the lasting tone: in 1929 a backwoods father waits on the station platform for the arrival of the Pembertons. He is accompanied by his 16 or 17-year old daughter, pregnant by Pemberton, and carries a freshly-honed bowie knife to plunge into Pemberton's heart. After the Pembertons arrive, some words are exchanged, Harmon draws his bowie knife and approaches Pemberton. "'We're settling this now,' Harmon shouted. 'He's right,' Serena said, "Get your knife and settle it now, Pemberton.'" Which Pemberton indeed does. So you immediately see that Serena is no shrinking violet. She's tough--tougher than Pemberton--and brutal--more brutal than Pemberton. People who stand in the Pembertons' way have an unfortunate tendency to die, usually unpleasantly.Read more ›
There are several subplots taking place and one is told from a perspective that I've not seen before - how the purchase of land for a National Park (The Great Smoky Mountains) could cause such hardship for so many.
I found myself struggling through the first twenty-five pages trying to find a rhythm with the author, as my first inclination - as it is with so many of today's fiction dramas - was to blow through this book: reading through the descriptive phrases and latching onto the quotations in and effort to read it without much time being spent. That would have been a tremendous mistake. The writing is so beautiful, that I was finding myself going back to re-read many sentences just for the beauty of the descriptions and metaphors. So I settled into a little slower rhythm, extending my reading time based on the number of words per minute, but allowing the richness of the story to take me into its world.Read more ›
What makes this a really fine novel, however, is not just character development or plot or neo-Elizabethan convention. It is the line-by-line attention that a reader might ordinarily expect from poetry. Page after page, in SERENA, I got the same feeling that I get when reading McCarthy or Faulkner, the feeling that every word matters, the feeling that when Rash revised this novel, he didn't just try to fix what might have appeared awkward or out of tune. He did his best to make it as seamless and "perfect" as his sanity would allow. In the process he produced a balance between tension and humor, grimness and grit, destruction and reclamation while creating a role that will likely accelerate some lucky actress's career.
Even with the main characters' Macbethean megalomania, manipulation, and murderousness, Rash is far too gifted a writer to create two-dimensional villains. Like the other characters in this novel, the protagonists are complex, reacting to conflicting motives and second-guessing all those around them. Serena Pemberton is the most powerful, unforgettable character I have encountered in years.
This is a novel that achieves what only the best do: a mesmerizing story, indelible characters, and gorgeous writing. If you doubt that Ron Rash is the best writer in America, pick up Serena.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Set in the time period between the World Wars, in a logging camp , this novel exposes characters who are not what they seem to be.Published 16 days ago by Denise
Outstanding!!! Suspense and counter point situations abound in this Ron Rash saga. The Coda added that ""Oh my gosh" element that tied everything together.Published 20 days ago by Robert L. Burgard
This was a magnificently written summer read! I'm familiar with this portion of North Carolina and it is a beautiful and rugged backdrop for such a rich story.Published 25 days ago by Amazon Customer
Worth reading the book before seeing the film. This book is great, I read it in two nights!Published 1 month ago by Corey
Serena and her husband are twisted individuals, (mad is the word that comes to his mind as he stares at his bride) and at first, I wanted to put the book down, I didn't want to... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Bonnie F. Beechler
I could not get this book off of my mind. I could not wait to get back to it to learn what Serena was going to do next.Published 2 months ago by Tigerpaw
This book grabs your attention from the start, and it doesn't let go, I spent a couple of nights reading long past the time I should of gone to bed. Read morePublished 2 months ago by T
Rash weaves a rather spectacular series of events in this fast moving plot which makes Serena look like she made a pact w/Mesphistophiles until Karma catches up with her in the... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer