The protagonist of this novel, Serena Pemberton, is evil, ruthless, loathsome, amoral, murderous, greedy, savage, vengeful… what else can I say about her? That she’s ambitious? She’s that. One other thing: she cannot bear a child. We can, at least, be thankful for that.
This is the story of lumber barons Serena and George Pemberton who would like to cut down every single tree in North Carolina, destroy the nascent movement to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then move on to Brazil and cut down all the mahogany trees. There’s a subplot about a child George fathered before he met Serena. True to character, Serena wants to kill this innocent babe because she suspects her husband is secretly helping the mother financially through difficult times.
Rachel Harmon, the mother of the illegitimate child, is so milquetoast, George so sensually tied to his wife, Serena so repulsive, it’s hard to know who to care about in this book.
Ron Rash is an accomplished writer. The book is beautifully written, gripping in places. Who can forget the opening scene, Mr. Harmon’s guts spilling onto the pavement while Serena licks her lips. Or Serena astride her white horse, the killer bird on her shoulder.
What I dislike about this book is that in the end, evil triumphs. Rachel and her baby may be safe, and the national park will be built, but the Serena Pembertons of the world live on, unpunished and unchanged.