zaterdag 12 maart 2016

"Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton

“He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access..."

The unnamed narrator, an engineer, is spending the winter in the fictional New England village of Starkfield. There he meets Ethan Frome, a quiet, friendly, but weary-looking and limping old farmer. Frome is a well-known figure in Starkfield and the mysterious 'smash-up', which happened to him years ago, is still the talk of the town. The narrator hires Frome as a driver, and while spending some time at the farmer's place, held-up by a violent snowstorm, he learns Ethan Frome's sad story.

Flash back twenty-four years and we find a young and vibrant Ethan Frome living with his cranky, sickly wife Zeena on his late parents' farm. Also living with them is his wife's cousin, the young and beautiful Mattie. Tired of the self-centred Zeena's constant nagging and verbal abuse, he turns to Mattie for company and he soon falls in love with her. Piece by piece, Frome's tragic story is revealed up until the famed accident. The surprising ending packs quite a punch.

At 120 pages, this is a very short and concise novel, but just the right length to generate the effect that it does. What at first seems a bit of a banal story, turns out to be a very deep and heartfelt tale about the tragedies of life. I really like the way the cold and harsh rural landscape is used as a device to describe Ethan Frome's character and personality. This is a story about morality, solitude and isolation; it's about destiny and abandoned dreams. A wonderful read.

Author: Edith Wharton
Title: Ethan Frome
Publisher: Oxford Universtity Press, London
Year: 2008 (orig. 1911)
Number of pages: xxxiii + 120 p.
ISBN: 9780199538096

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