My English class has just finished reading Edith Wharton’s 1911 novel. I have almost always enjoyed reading my required books, some I barely got through the nightly reading, but never have I completely fallen in love with a book at school like Ethan Frome.
“I want to put my hand out and touch you. I want to do for you and care for you. I want to be there when you’re sick and when you’re lonesome.”
Set in Starkfield Massachusetts, the novel opens with a young engineer who is invited to stay at the home of a crippled man named Ethan Frome due to the excessive snow. He had heard tales of a “smash-up” that scarred fifty-five year old Ethan, but no one would tell him what happened.
The book then starts to tell the story of what had happened 24 years earlier. Ethan waits outside a local dance for young Mattie Silver, who has been dancing a reel with local flirt Ned Hale. Ethan becomes jealous watching the beautiful Mattie speak with the persistent Ned after the dance, but relieved when she refuses to ride with him. Ethan quickly catches up to her and brings her home.
Ethan had married the now sickly Zenobia “Zeena”, his cousin several years his senior, out of fear of being alone on his family farm. Zeena took in orphaned Mattie and hoped to use her as a help around the house due to all her “illnesses”. Mattie, who is 20, however, does not have a natural ability for house keeping and Ethan found himself scrubbing floors in the wee hours of the morning.
Ethan’s feelings grow towards Mattie, and he is awkward and hesitant on how to express them. He feels a sense of responsibility towards Zeena, but is conflicted over his love for Mattie. When the time comes for Mattie to leave, the ending will leave you in a shock that I can guarantee you won’t expect.
Unlike my classmates (most of which chanted “smother Zeena with a pillow” and described their annoyance with the whole book), I found Ethan endearing. His clumsiness and his little ways of showing his affection made him the epitome, in my opinion, of a lovable dork. His past decisions haunt him and I feel his regret, but at the same time if he had not have married Zeena he never would’ve met Mattie. It is the ending when I felt my heart break for him. To be reminded of what could’ve been every single day, I don’t know how he did it.
“And I say, if she’d ha’ died, Ethan might ha’ lived; and the way they are now, I don’t see’s there’s much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; ‘cept that down there they’re all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues.”
I would definitely recommend this book, even though the prologue might be a little slow, the novel is worth it.