Ethan Frome. The dreaded title. If you haven’t read it, and you are over 30, read it, you’d love having read it. If you were one of those who had to read it in high school, and loath it, read it again, you’ll probably change your mind.
There’s nothing in youth that inclines us to like this gem. There’s a reason why it’s short, same as The Death of Ivan Illych, and other tragic titles. I’m going to tell you that the world of literature is better because a book like this exists. Someone had to tell the story of Ethan Frome. He’s an archetype. He’s an American Aedipo Rex.
Someone at Goodreads pointed to how this book shows an America where he can’t make his dreams come true. It’s a credible tale of how a decent young man is accosted morally and existentially by circumstances and fate. Yes, we all have free will, yet, without asking us to justify Ethan, what would have we done differently? It’s difficult to be hard with him. In many ways he behaves with reproach, yet he’s also a candid man, possibly a precursor of Wendell Berry characters.
If we could put ourselves in the place of some people, we would have more mercy and compassion. Likewise, this is such a book that may strengthen our moral. We are confronted with unusually extreme dilemmas in the book, but who is to say we don’t have similar situations in our life?, and having placed ourselves in the shoes of the characters of this book, may inspire and strengthen us to act differently in some aspects, the same in others.
Don’t think it’s as if the author set herself to write a book for our moral edification either. Trust me, the quality and poetry of this story is undeniable. She had a story to tell, and it came out perfect. The length, the rhythm, the pace, she nailed it. Wharton reminded me of Cather’s love for America and her landscapes. There’s the beauty of nature, a very candid study of different bents in people, what we call personalities, and some economy of means that adds to that feeling of deprivation of basic means, that pushes to a more dangerous deprivation of the soul.
I now can tell why Wilkie Collins praised and counted this title by Wharton as his favorite book from her.
Another title that will forever stay with me.