Friday, May 15, 2009

Mixed Reaction

by Ron Rash

This book is hard to describe as "good" or "bad." The writing is absolutely gorgeous, it flows nicely, the story moves, and the descriptions are mesmerizing. The story itself is spellbinding, to use an old fashioned word. I definitely want to read more of Ron Rash's work - he's been around for awhile, and I have heard him do readings on NPR. I hope this book puts him on the national stage, because he certainly deserves to be there. I would give my eyeteeth to write even half as well as he does.

Having said that, the book will creep you out (from the small amount I have heard, I don't think Rash's other books are as gothic as this one). The main characters are despicable, absolutely pure evil. Personal gain (wealth, power, control) and vengeance are the two motivating forces in Serena and Pemberton's lives. Pemberton seems to be a reasonably decent human being until he links up with Serena, and she is really awful. It's not long before she almost completely ruins him. When he retains the tiniest shred of conscience, she exacts the ultimate revenge on him. She gave me, to quote Owen Meany, THE SHIVERS.

One of the blurbs on the back of Serena describes the novel as "an Appalachian retelling of Macbeth." That characterization led me to flip through my old copy of Macbeth (from my junior year of college) and look for the parallels. The similarities certainly exist - just as Lady Macbeth pushes Macbeth into malevolent deeds that he likely would not have done on his own, Serena lures her husband into actions that go against his better judgement. However, I also saw some similarities with Wuthering Heights, only with the roles reversed. Serena is Heathcliff, demanding nothing less than total obedience and allegiance from Cathy/Pemberton. Beware.

I was really into the story as I was reading it - could hardly put the book down, and devoured it in just a couple of days. I can appreciate the craftsmanship, and I definitely was lost in the story in that way that happens with truly good writing. However, it is difficult to love a book where the characters are so hideous and evil retains the upper hand throughout. Rachel is a good character, though. She is tenacious and determined to save her child. You will root for her, and she needs all the help she can get against the crafty Serena and her wimpy husband.

Reverent Reader


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