In Ron Rash's hotly anticipated follow-up to his beloved 2008 title Serena, Rash gives us 10 allegorical tales and one novella based off of the setting and characters in his aforementioned New York Times bestseller. The novella ties in directly to the ending of Serena and ties up a few loose ends left in that ending, but the themes throughout speak to humanity's rampant destruction of wilderness for the sake of profit and nature's ways of fighting back against that. With the 10 short stories, not all tie in to the themes presented in Serena and the novella, but each highlights both the darkness and the light that can be found in each of us. Here I'll give a sampling of some, but not all, of the stories showcased.
In "When All the Stars Fall," a father and son carpentry duo get ripped off by a customer who claims after the fact that they did not do their job properly. Internally bemoaning the unfair compensation for his hard work, and frustrated with his dad about his business practices that seem to favor the customer over their own safety and hard work, the son, livid, gets drunk that night, then goes and burns down all of his and his father's hard work on the dock they'd just built. Will he get away with his crime? In what initially comes across as a critique of capitalism and attitudes against the working class, we find a complicated picture of current day business practices in which neither the customer nor the businessman is always right.
For "Le Homme Blesse," we're given a moving tale about a struggling widowed professor who helps a former student of his figure out a lost piece of her family history that's related to some paintings that she found in an old family house. Will they discover the secret behind the mysterious paintings that this former student has uncovered? Any reader who is familiar with mental health struggles, any combat veteran who's struggled with PTSD, will be familiar with the motifs found in this one.
In "Ransom," Rash gives us a harrowing kidnapping tale that leaves the reader contemplating the roles that the individual, environment, and drug companies play in drug addiction. College student Jennifer, whose parents are connected to the University that she attends, is kidnapped for ransom by a man named James Dillard. When she first arrives to the hideout where he's hidden her, she realizes that her arm has been hurt, and asks for medicine. Dillard gives her some white pills, claiming that they were innocuous pain pills, but throughout her month-long stay with Dillard, he keeps feeding her the pills, claiming that she has to take them. Not knowing what else to do, she obliges, even after the injury has gone away. Will she eventually escape Dillard's clutches? And even if she escapes, will she every truly be rid of his psychological entrapment?
Finally, in In The Valley, Rash's follow-up to Serena, we see a few loose ends regarding the character Galloway and his prophesied connection to the characters of Rachel and her child, resolved in this novella. In a continuation of the themes present in Serena, we see Mrs. Pemberton move her logging expedition from Brazil to North Carolina, her men continuing to plunder and pillage the natural wilderness surrounding them for the sake of profit. Nature tries to fight back, though. Countless times throughout their expedition, men are injured, either by the trees impaling them, or by the wilderness attacking them in the form of rattlesnakes and vipers. Will Galloway finally enact his prophesied violence against Rachel? Will there be anything left once the men are done with their logging expedition, or will nature rise up?
In all, Ron Rash gives us yet another captivating glimpse into the world we live in, one that's not to be missed.