I recently finished Serena, Ron Rash‘s 2008 novel about logging, profiteering, and murder in a western North Carolina mountain town. I was interested in Rash’s notion that strong female characters are lacking in American fiction—I still haven’t heard many arguments to the contrary—and though I was a little disappointed in just how Lady MacBeth-archetypal and bloodthirsty Serena Pemberton is, Rash’s novel is still impressive, a thoughtful portrait of the entire structure of a logging town and how various classes behave within it.
I hadn’t realized that Serena’s setting was such a popular one, but the Smoky Mountain News reminds me that Charles Frazier‘s Cold Mountain and Wayne Caldwell‘s Cataloochee are also set in the same county as Serena. As a practical matter, Cold Mountain‘s success has given the region a bit of a tourist boom. And a companion piece by Thomas Crowe gets into more stylistic and historical details, pointing out that all three novels have classical analogues. All three also make the landscape a character in its own right—something that can’t be helped given the region’s history, as Caldwell tells Crowe:
“[Cataloochie is about] the historic prelude that led up to the government’s confiscation of land in Madison and Haywood counties — by hook, crook and eminent domain and displacing hundreds of mountain families, including some of my own people,” he said. “This story runs in my blood, I guess you could say. And it’s a part of regional and national history, like the removal of the Native peoples, that has been largely ignored, forgotten, and I felt was begging (me) to be told.