Rash’s title character, Serena, embodies an early twentieth century Lady Macbeth with a greed lust and sense of entitlement like no other. She typifies the all-consuming femme fatale in juxtaposition with Rachel Harmon, the mother of Pemberton’s child. Rash’s keen naming of the characters signifies his attention to detail and clarity as Rachel quickly becomes the novel’s earth mother; the one who lives in “harmony” with the land, the center of Serena’s devastation and greed; suggesting only one of the many layers of this text and underscoring Rash’s grasp of literary technique like none of his contemporaries. Rash pairs his technique with powerful story seed and the pages spark with the tension of all great thematic statement. Themes that withstand the test of time are all a part of Serena: disparity of social castes, the environment, poverty, hubris, and desire.
This late 1920s story of lust, murder, loss, and greed illustrates Rash’s true ability: he doesn’t tell the story, his characters lead the reader through it. Rash’s language and dialogue are without flaw and his images are captivating and simultaneously haunting. Both the story and its text are primal, raw; overwhelming the reader while racing to the last page. Once finished, regretting there are no more chapters, Rash gifts the reader with the “Coda,” signifying the repeat, if you will. This final glimpse of Serena, Pemberton, and Rachel creates more levels to the original text and will cause the reader to return to passages and chapters that disguise more possibility than the initial reading provided.
The poet in Rash leaves the reader stunned at the power of the printed word and Rash’s stunningly elegant command of its power. In almost 400 pages, this reader found only one regretful episode – the traveling carnival. Rash emulates Twain in an unnecessary distraction of text. However, Serena has convinced me of Rash’s immeasurable abilities as a novelist, not just a poet. This book has impact, intensity, and insight. It leaves the reader resigned, regretful, and rejoicing.