An unnamed narrator from a fictional New England town tells us about his encounter with Ethan Frome; a man with dreams and desires but stuck in a loveless marriage. His wife, Zeena is a hypochondriac whom he married out of a sense of duty. When Ethan falls deeply in love with Zeena’s cousin and their maid Mattie things start truly falling apart.
I’m going to put this out there, this book really reminds me of a Russian novel; the love triangle reminds me of Doctor Zhivago mainly. Then there is the bleak, cold winter climate that makes the book as dismal as the current environment. These elements are what really appealed to me. When Stephanie (from Read in a Single Sitting) called this book the most depressing novel ever written, I was sold, I brought the book right away and spent the day reading it.
Ethan Frome is a working class man trying to make ends meet, he is really struggling financially and having to deal with a wife who is constantly ill isn’t helping him much. He lives with his secret desires but then slowly moves towards taking action, then quietly submitting to life’s circumstances, this seems to be the endless cycle for him. This struggle turned this into a novel of the forbidden, as well as one of morality and duty.
Ethan Frome is full of Symbolism; the cat and the pickle dish I believe was a symbol of their failing marriage, the gold locket represents love and finding it in Ethan. Finally there was the most obvious one which was the colour red that I think was used to represent adultery, similar to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. There were some more in the book but I won’t go into all of them, I just found it an interesting literary device to express elements that the narrator left out.
I know this may be the cynic in me, but I felt like this novel was a romance; the passion between Ethan and Mattie was strong and powerful; that’s what made this book so devastating. Zeena was a cunning woman that held all the power and while at times I felt sorry for Ethan for being stuck in a terrible marriage there was a part of me that thought he was just making it harder for himself by putting himself in a situation and dragging Mattie into all this mess.
You will either love or hate this book. It is truly depressing but yet in the midst of all this disaster it remained elegant and beautiful. The words were like poetry, I got swept away with the prose only to find myself heading for a devastating crash. It’s like a horror novel of obligation and no matter which way Ethan or I looked at the situation there was no escape. For a book under 150 pages, I’m surprised just how much it said.