By Edith Wharton
1911 (Original) 2009 (This version)
The Short of It:
Tragic, depressing and grim.
The Rest of It:
Oh my goodness! My book group chose this book for December, thinking that because it was short, it would be a good choice for a busy month. I agreed at the time. However, do not let its length deceive you. It’s certainly not a complex novel in that you need a lot of time to pick it apart, but it’s heavy and fraught with high drama as all of the main characters are miserable and there doesn’t seem to be any hope for happiness.
The story takes place in a nineteenth-century New England village. Ethan Frome is married to Zeena. Zeena has a great many problems. One of which is her ailing self. It’s not clear if she is truly ill, of if her meanness just makes her so, but she is bedridden to the point of needing a helping hand. Mattie, her cousin, comes to help them out.
As the three of them spend time together, it’s clear that Ethan has fallen hard for Mattie. He secretly catches glimpses of her at the supper table, and finds excuses to be alone with her. Although he hopes that she feels the same way, it’s hard to tell as first what Mattie is thinking. However, it’s not hard to tell what Zeena is thinking and it’s no surprise that she makes it difficult for them in the end.
My frustration with this book is that there is really no honor to be had when it comes to Ethan. He loves Mattie, but he doesn’t really act upon it in a realistic way. He sort of fumbles along and experiences moments of gushing that you’d expect from a young girl, not a grown man. I mentioned the honor part because it’s not really out of a sense of honor that he is with his wife. It’s as if he doesn’t have the energy to live any differently. He puts up with her but I’m not sure why. Certainly not for money, as they are poor farmers and with her medical costs, there is nothing extra to be had.
I wanted to feel something for Ethan, but I felt nothing. It was like downing a glass of wine and having it go right to your head. I was numb to his plight and I felt no pity for him. The end of the book, as seen through a third-party visitor to the house, has got to be one of the most depressing endings ever.
Although I didn’t love it, there is plenty to discuss.
On a funny note, when I saw the cover above, I was thinking torrid love affair, a “roll in the hay” so to speak, but when you read the book you realize the cover has nothing to do with what my dirty, smutty mind was thinking. Too bad.