The Slow Burn: Serena

Jennine @ My Life in Books was the first person that brought Ron Rash’s Serena to my attention. At the time I was drawn to it because her description of the title character (to be played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie adaptation coming out sometime later this year) intrigued me. A woman that not even snake venom can kill? I wanted to know more about it.

So now, months later, I’ve finally read it.


It’s 1929 and George Pemberton is returning to his North Carolina timber camp with his new bride, Serena. Only this woman isn’t like any other woman anyone has ever met; Pemberton’s partners’ wives spend their time in Boston, meeting in some civilized place once a month. Serena wears pants and trains an eagle to rid the area of snakes. She will stop at nothing to get what she wants; woe to those that cross her. When Serena realizes that she will never have a child, she goes after the illegitimate child that Pemberton conceived with a kitchen maid before her arrival. Once she gets something in her head, watch out.

This book was a slow burn for me. No question it was exceptionally written but the whole time the story is being set up without feeling like anything really happens. It’s hard to explain how this is the case – within the first 15 pages, a guy has been stabbed in the stomach and his guts are spilled into his lap. It just felt, for me, like we were all hurtling towards a big finale but along the way it was sometimes hard to keep going. The secondary characters spend a lot of time sitting around and observing. Sometimes this gave you another level of understanding or explanation, other times it gave me a bunch of guys sitting around and observing.

Serena is a bitch. She’s a horrible human being, cold, calculating, manipulative; you don’t particularly sympathize with her and you can’t figure out why Pemberton lets her do the things she does. Not that she really asks permission but she does always check in with him and most of the time, he approves. But I enjoyed her. I can’t wait to see Jennifer Lawrence take her on on the silver screen actually – I can’t think of a better casting decision.

Most of the time, getting through this one, I was thinking that I had found another 1920s set book that I didn’t love; one that would be better on screen. But the ending was pretty great and you know how I feel about endings (if you don’t, I am the reader that can forgive pretty much anything if the ending is a good one.) The ending was sly and yet completely predictable. It was the only way that this whole thing could end yet it was kind of surprising?

I’m looking more forward to the movie but I’m glad that I read it first.

PS The book cover that I used is the one I read and I really like it.


6 thoughts on “The Slow Burn: Serena

  1. I like your description of the ending, quite intriguing. I haven’t read this book, but your fascinating review – I can’t tell if you hated the book or liked it (or really just a bit of both) makes me want to pick it up and read it for myself.

  2. I agree on the whole “slow burn.” Serena is an intriguing character and yet everything seemed to drag out. I too read it because it was coming out as a movie with Jennifer Lawrence. I think it comes out later this year and I can’t wait to see her take on this totally opposite role.

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