Earlier this summer, I read Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth and absolutely fell in love with it. It was my first Wharton read, and when I finished the book, I was curious as to which one of her stories I would next pick -- there are many to choose from, and even her life is fascinating, so I felt sure that even a biography of sorts would be a good way to go, too. Over the weekend, the book I came across that jumped out at me was Ethan Frome. It's a short book and only took a couple hours to read.
I'll say it right away -- I loved it. Not quite as much as The House of Mirth, since there were a few things I wish were excluded in Ethan Frome which I'll get into later, but overall, Edith Wharton continues to rank right up there in my "favorites" category.
In a bleak town called Starkfield, Massachusetts, we meet Ethan Frome through an unnamed narrator, who has recently come to town. The narrator provides the objective overview of Ethan, who becomes especially noticeable because of his disfigurement. Feeling a bit more comfortable to share the gossip with an outsider, the local townspeople offer up the sordid details of Ethan's life, and thus our story begins.
Ethan's in his late twenties when the story starts. Zeena initially came into the house to help tend to Ethan's mother while she was sick, and when his mother eventually passes on, Ethan can't stomach the idea of not having Zeena stay on. So he marries her. Not out of love, just purely out of fear of life without the routines and comforts that Zeena provided. But, he sadly soon finds out that Zeena was only a good caregiver for one reason only. Zeena learned how to do everything because she herself is sick and weak all the time. She stays in the room all day, and farm life in the bleak cold winters of Massachusetts isn't an easy life. All hands need to be on deck to help, but Zeena isn't counted as one of them. She's really more of an added burden to the hard life since she spends what little money Ethan makes on the farm on all of her doctor's visits, trips to see family, and newfangled medicinal concoctions that Zeena comes across.
|Town of Thorndike, Maine|
Poor guy. He's lived seven or so years with Zeena, who brings him down, sucks the very essence of life out of him, not to mention his pockets, too. I found her to be a bit holier-than-thou and annoying. And even though I'm not a fan of infidelity, I sort of got why Ethan strayed, even though it's really more of kissing and emotions than anything more. Not that it makes his infidelity any better, but good gracious -- I'm surprised he didn't stray sooner!
But I had no idea for how the book would end. I didn't expect what these lovers would do to stay together, and how Ethan's life would end up. I won't give one iota away because I know it's the kind of ending that you're all supposed to read and experience and turn the pages, gasping away at what happens. Needless to say, that is how I experienced it, and I'm the better for it. But I was so very, very sad for Ethan, and felt that if there's anyone who was the true epitome of bad luck, it would be Ethan.
My only difficulty with the story and which made me not love this book as much as The House of Mirth, was the unnamed narrator. I couldn't stand the initial pages -- it felt a bit slow and boring to me, and it was only once Ethan's story started to truly take shape and the unnamed narrator wasn't in the forefront anymore that I found it was much more interesting and the book was a quick read.
I highly recommend -- you just have to get past the first few pages or so to get to the meat of it all.
I couldn't help feeling the shared circumstances of the husband in Daphne du Maurier's short story, "The Apple Tree" that I just read, and Ethan Frome. They certainly could have commiserated quite a bit on their miserable marriages and sad lives. Has there been any characters from different stories that you felt would strike a good friendship?
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