Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review: Ethan Frome

ETHAN FROME: a very short but worthwhile read

Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome tells the story of a man who struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult and sickly wife, Zeena. However, Ethan sees a spark of hope in his miserable life when Zeena’s relative, Mattie Silver, has been hired to their home to help with the chores. He finds himself infatuated with the cheerful girl, and this fact has drawn him into a series of complications that have risen in the household.

The story is only about a hundred pages long, so it doesn’t have the room to weave in complicated plot points. This simplicity, instead of making Ethan Frome a boring read, is actually the factor that makes the narrative intense. This is because of the fact that it makes the story straight to the point. There is no need to establish plot points, so the story is consistently driven to the actual development of the plot. Speaking of plot development, its pace is really slow. However, like the simplicity of the story, this slowness has affected the book in the opposite way it should have. The slow pacing, instead of boring the readers, for in some sequences nothing significant is happening, has made the storytelling so intense that it comes to the point that readers will be compelled to move forward. The best example for this is the sequence where Ethan Frome, for the first time, has been left alone with Mattie Silver, for his wife has gone away to consult to a new doctor. Even though they are just sitting there, and nothing is really happening, Edith Wharton still successfully pulls off an intense atmosphere. However, this pacing has also become problematic in some parts of the book, especially on the parts where Edith Wharton abruptly diverts her attention to past events, events that, I think, are not really significant to the story she wants to tell.

The story’s shortness does not stop it from creating well-drawn characters. Sure, they are not extremely deep who are worthy of significant character study, but they are compelling enough for a hundred-page story. The only problem I have with the characterization is Ethan Frome and Mattie Silver’s decision to end everything with a double suicide, for they can’t handle their inevitable separation. I find this to be somewhat out of character -- not to mention that it is a sensationalized solution to their dilemma. However, I understand the author’s intent on deciding to include such a plot point. This has come to me when I have reached the conclusion of the story. There I learned that their attempt to kill themselves was a complete failure and left them as physical wrecks. This conclusion has successfully triggered the emotions it wants to communicate -- and I congratulate Edith Wharton in this department.

As for Edith Wharton’s writing style, I find it very easy to read. I must admit that this is the first time I have read a work of her, and I’m a little surprised that her prose is quite simplistic, especially when compared to other writers of her time. This makes Ethan Frome very easy to understand. The emotions it delivers are easily communicated. Aside from that, her writing has also successfully established the imagery of her setting, which, I must add, fits the story perfectly. The snowy setting has contributed to the communication of subtle emotions that the story comes to represent.

Even though it doesn’t present complicated themes and deep moral and ethical significances, Ethan Frome is still a rewarding book, for it offers the readers a perspective on one of life’s harsh realities: Life does not always work out the way you want it. Depressing? That’s Ethan Frome for you.

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