Study Guide

Serena

By Ron Rash

Serena Introduction

Serena isn't one to mince words so we won't either: This broad is tough. We're talking pants-wearing, business-running, man-shushing, no-nonsense tough. It's 1929 and she is not about to bow down to any man—nobody puts Serena in a corner and she doesn't even need Patrick Swayze's help. Serena runs her own show, thankyouverymuch. Oh, and if you get in her way, she'll probably kill you. So maybe don't do that.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Serena is the star of a book called… wait for it… Serena. Given what we've just told you about her, that seems about right, doesn't it? Published in 2008 by Ron Rash, the novel is set in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina during the Great Depression, a time when the American people endured incredible economic misery and scrambled to make ends meet. To be clear, though, Serena's a hustler for the ages, so there's no need to be a history buff to get into her tale.

While Serena's story might be set in the 1930s, the world in which she lives feels very alive and contemporary. Perhaps this is why it's been a New York Times Bestseller and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award—readers today seem to have no trouble relating to this story despite it being set generations back. Then again, maybe it's Serena herself that's so captivating—Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper who star in the movie adaptation both seem to think so.

What is Serena About and Why Should I Care?

Think we live in an equal society? Think again. As recently as 2014, women made an average of seventy-eight cents on the dollar compared to men. So things are definitely not equal. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be.

In Serena, we get up close and personal with an incredibly difficult woman. Serena is all kinds of unsavory, but if there's one thing we can absolutely get behind, it's her conviction that women be treated as equals. To this end, she makes business deals, chops trees, shoots bears, and even takes on the Secretary of the Interior when he dares to disagree with her. It might be 1929, but Serena doesn't seem to have gotten the memo that this means she's supposed to be prissy and polite as a wealthy woman. Or if she did get the memo, she obviously tore it right up.

There's plenty about Serena not to admire or model yourself on, but when it comes to conviction and making the life she wants for herself, we can probably all take notes. She's a walking, talking master class in how not to take no for an answer, no matter what society thinks. So whether you're looking for a story with a strong heroine or you just want to see how one woman takes down an army, pick up a copy of this book and get reading.

Serena Resources

Websites

Ring in the Day with Rash
Our author's publisher's page for him has the dish on his novels, talks, and upcoming events.

Great Smoky Mountains
Spoiler alert: There's a national park tucked into these peaks. To scope the scenery and learn about the land in this book, check out this website.

Movie or TV Productions

On the Silver Screen
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper star as the tyrannical timber couple.

Articles and Interviews

A Character Like No Other
Rash wanted to write a woman like none other. Learn a bit about his inspiration and also enjoy an excerpt of him reading from the novel.

He's a Poet and He Knows It
Ron Rash talks about his background in poetry, his work ethic (dude's prolific), and the importance of seeking out fanatics when you're writing.

Video

Hitch Your Wagon to This Trailer
Need a dose of J. Law and B. Coop? We feel you. Click on through.

Not a Rash Decision
Okay, we're not actually sure how long Rash spent deliberating about which passage to share, but we are glad he chose a section that includes rattlesnakes.

Audio

Lend Me Your Ears
If you can't make it through all four hundred some-off pages, check out the audio version of the book.

Images

We've Got You Covered
This is one book cover that will have you yelling "timber!" in no time.

Migrant Mother
Dorothea Lange's famous image of a Depression era woman reminds us an awful lot of Rachel and Jacob.

This Depression Isn't So Great
At least that's what the millions of people out of work thought.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
It's a real place, with lots of trees and no Serena in sight.