Release Date: 1911
Genre: Classic American Fiction
Source: Kindle freebie
Rating: 4.5 Bookworms
Challenges: COYER B2B
Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena's vivacious cousin enters their household as a "hired girl", Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.
In of of American fiction's finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton's other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel.
Sky was reading this for school and since it was something I'd always meant to read, I grabbed a free copy and read it along with her. And since we both read it, and loved it, we thought we'd share our reviews with y'all.
I immensely enjoyed Ethan Frome. Wharton eloquently describes the New England landscape - especially as affected by winter. She also describes life in New England - especially as affected by winter - with aplomb. New England is rather harsh and unforgiving during the winter, where people were forced into a solitary existence as the cold kept them shut up. Life was also affected by technological advancement - like the railroad - which hurt small communities economically and socially.
As for Ethan Frome himself, well, he broke my heart. He grew up in Starkfield, MA, with a family in farming and lumber. Sickness and life in general took its toll on the Frome family. Ethan was called back from college when his mom took ill and that one even changed the course of his life. Ethan had dreams that were smothered. And when he finally found a passionate love, it was too late...his life was already cemented.
Some might say that Ethan deserved what happened to him. I say he was a victim of circumstance - of life. As Mrs. Hale said,
"You've had an awful mean time, Ethan Frome."He did have an hard time of it. And I'm sure he suffered til the day he died.
Those of you who said The Book Thief would be too depressing for you… that book didn’t even touch the level of this one. Ethan Frome started from rock bottom and somehow managed to get lower. It’s the sobering kind of depressing that makes you want to go stare at a wall for a few hours. It’s very harsh and deeply sad.
Ethan Frome is set in a little town called Starkfield, which is rather appropriately named. The story is set in the middle of bleak New England, around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when there was no electricity outside of big cities and rural farmers struggled to eke out an existence while their urban counterparts worked in debilitating conditions in factories.
The main character of the story, Ethan Frome, is a relatively young man who has been saddled with tragedy throughout his entire life. Born into a poor family, he was forced to return to the destitute farm and mill in Starkfield by the death of his father. The slow decline of his mother’s health resulted in his requiring the assistance of a girl named Zenobia, whom he felt obligated to marry following the death of his mother. Zenobia, it turns out, was a proficient healer due to her own condition, and Ethan quickly discovered her to be in perpetually declining health, as well. Thus, Zenobia’s cousin, Mattie Silver, was brought into the house to help perform the basic tasks that Ethan’s wife was unable to. Here begins the real tragedy.
Ethan falls in love.
In the dreary and bare world that Wharton has created, I can’t help but believe that she has intentionally forced a harsh reality upon her readers. In Starkfield, as in much of the world, there are no happy endings. Each winter slowly whittles away what could have been the happiness and the prosperity of the town’s inhabitants, leaving behind the empty shells of people who have been absolutely gutted of emotion throughout their lives. Not even love, that bright light that refuses to fail in most stories, can escape the relentless winter. These peoples’ youth, innocence, joys, hopes, dreams, fantasies -- all are stolen by the years of Starkfield winter. In this book, there is no freedom. The characters are trapped in their situations, and even if they tried, they could not escape. In this book, there is no hope. The centripetal emotion of this story is despair.
This book is beautiful. Wharton’s depictions of New England scenery, the glorious Mattie through Ethan’s eyes, the quaint and charming neighbors of the Fromes -- these are all intensely gorgeous bits of the book that provide tantalizing glimpses of love and wonder throughout the narrative. However, although Wharton seems to support the idea that there is beauty even within the darkest depths of despair, in the end, her characters seem to have been destined for tragedy.