Posted by: istop4books | October 23, 2009

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

This book was my introduction to Edith Wharton. I’ve seen the movies based on her books, but had never picked one up to read. Well, I’m not sure I’m going to pick up another one. I realize that this particular book has been lauded as her “masterpiece” and at the time it was written, when the social mores were part of the social make up of the readers, it might have been. In today’s world, what the author takes for granted, I had to really think about. The times, the constraints, the culture she writes about is so foreign that it seems like the book was written in the 19th C, rather than in the 20th. My Dad was a young man when this book was written, his mother (my grandmother) a divorcee who remarried. Their lives, were so different that there was a disconnect for me. The plot, the diaglo and the characters seemed one-dimensional and stiff, a bit flat.

Ethan nursed his father and then his mother, giving up his youth and his dreams of going to the university and leaving his small town, until his parents died. He farms a land which barely provides subsistence living, and marries Zenobia. She is a hypochondriac, manipulative, cold, distant woman and together they live a dull, unbearable life until Mattie, Zennie’s cousin,comes to live with them and brightens up their lives, or at least Ethan’s.
The book is tragic, sad and the characters seem to just take their destinies in stride without any ability to do what it takes to make changes. I wanted to slap all three of them, as well as the friends and neighbors who seemed immune to their suffering.

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