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Lady Macbeth has nothing on Serena, the ruthless protagonist of this Depression-era story set in the Smoky Mountains.

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As far as Shakespearean villains go, it’s hard to top Lady Macbeth. Ambitious, ruthless, and totally memorable – and then she unexpectedly fizzles out in Act 5. With all due admiration for Shakespeare, I never thought she seemed the type to be driven suicidal by guilt.

Author Ron Rash is apparently also skeptical about Lady M’s capacity for remorse. In his new novel, Serena, he looks at what might have happened if Lady Macbeth never went mad. Warning: Results may be harmful to the environment (not to say fatal to most of the characters in the book).

Set in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina during the Great Depression, “Serena” opens when lumber baron George Pemberton brings his new wife, Serena, back to town.

Waiting at the train station are Rachel Harmon, the teenage girl Pemberton impregnated before he left, and her drunk, knife-wielding father. Rather than be appalled at her husband’s negligence or terrified for his safety, Serena coolly urges Pemberton to fight. After he kills the older man, she hands Harmon’s knife to Rachel and suggests she sell it, since it’s the only thing Rachel will ever get from the Pembertons.


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