December 15, 2008

Ethan Frome: Review

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In Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, the narrator, a newcomer to the small New England town of Starkfield, becomes fascinated by Ethan Frome. Ethan shuns the company of the townspeople. He looks beaten down and world weary. The locals make reference to 'an accident' and avoid his isolated farm.

One stormy winter day, the narrator finds himself in the home of Ethan and puts together the pieces of his story...

When Ethan was a young man, he was married to Zeena, a difficult and cantankerous woman. She invites her poor relation Mattie to live with them as housekeeper. Ethan becomes infatuated by the girl which can only end in tragedy.

Supposedly Ethan Frome is the most auto-biographical of all Wharton's novels, if that's true, her life must have been unbearably sad. She identifies herself with Ethan, a man torn between duty and love with disastrous results. There is a definite stifling quality to the writing. Ethan's unsolvable dilemma is a tremendous burden. It reminds me of a book I had to read in high school: The Mountain and the Valley, in which a man wishes to leave his small town but never can. A book I did not appreciate at all. However, I was drawn in by the story of Ethan Frome. He is a truly sympathetic character even though his choices are always wrong. Is this his fault or that of fate?

Wharton reveals a little of the story at a time, answering questions I had as I read. Why did he marry Zeena? Does Mattie love him too? What exactly did happen? The ending took me totally by surprise. I did not expect that!

The story is told in an interesting way. In the first chapter, the narrator speaks in first person, telling the reader of his impressions of Ethan until he enters the farm house. Then the narration switches to third person and tells Ethan's story as he experienced it. It's a short 170 pages but the writing packs a wallop. Every word has a purpose. Even winter plays a major part in this story. The locals agree that Ethan has spent too many winters at that farm house.

Okay, so it's not the most uplifting story but I'm still thinking of Ethan a week after I finished reading it. It's a haunting story.

Thanks to the Girlebooks for the free download.

Highly recommended.

15 comments :

  1. I've got to read Ethan Frome, someday. I've overheard so many teenagers saying it's "depressing" that I was kind of put off, although I have a copy on the classics shelf.

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  2. I read this book in high school and didn't enjoy it much. Maybe a re-read is in order.

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  3. I enjoyed Ethan Frome, but I really needed to read something light and happy to follow it up. It's incredibly sad.

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  4. I didn't realize it would be sad! But I'm really looking forward to reading it -- I loved Age of Innocence and enjoyed House of Mirth. Thanks for this review -- although I'll prepare to be very sad by the time I finish Ethan Frome!

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  5. Hi. Thanks for stopping by my blog Through the Eyes of the Creator during the blog advent tour. Come back soon! =)

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  6. Bookfool- I would have said the same thing in my teens.

    Bermuda- You might see it differently now.

    Ruth- Yes, I feel the same way. I need some chick lit.

    Rebecca- I really enjoy Wharton's writing. This is my 3rd book of hers. I'll be reading Age of Innocence in Jan.

    bigSIS- No problem!

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  7. I've read a couple Wharton books and I agree that it seems like she had a sad hard life. I've been wanting to read this one as well. Thanks for the review!

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  8. I have never read Wharton before at all. One of these days I have to remedy that!

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  9. I really liked it too. I don't think it's more depressing or darker than Wuthering Heights. I saw how he got hurt coming, but not the reason or the ending.

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  10. Wonderful review! As you probably would guess, this one is on my TBR! O loved The Age of Innocence.

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  11. I enjoy books that make me think about them, even after I turned the last page. Most books I read I forget within the month.

    Her House of Mirth is one of my favorite books. This is on my to-read list/shelf...I'll get there eventually.

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  12. A review of Ethan Frome!! Nice!! I love this little gem... and dragged many a sophomore through it. Suicide by Sled... Brutal...

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  13. Amanda- I have many more to read!

    Kailana- Be prepared to feel blue.

    Kristy- At least we were prepared for the end somewhat.

    Teddy- I think you'd like it.

    Ronnica- I loved House of Mirth too.

    Kirsten- Thanks for visiting.

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  14. I don't think I would have appreciated it at all in my teens (I didn't even like Pride & Prejudice back then) but I very moved by it when I read it [recently]. House of Mirth is another of my faves of hers.

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  15. I'm always interested in what others have to say about Wharton. She's one of my favorite authors.

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