Ethan Frome is a rather sad and depressing tale set in the small and fictional New England town of Starkfield. The novella beings with the narrator’s first introduction to Ethan Frome, a lonely and reserved old man in town. After Ethan chauffeurs the narrator to and from various engagements, the author learns about Ethan’s history, and more prominently, his doomed love story.
This book is by leaps and bounds different from Age of Innocence. Its much shorter for one thing, (181 pages!), and the story isn’t bogged down with elaborate descriptions of social mores, norms and etiquette. This story felt much more raw and truthful.
That doesn’t mean that Wharton did not impress with her use of language and description. She was able to shed a favorable light on one of the most disliked characters, Ethan’s wife Zenobia. Even Ethan, the purported protagonist came across as idle and impotent in his actions to save the fate of his wife’s cousin and house-help Mattie.Each character was flawed in their own unique way. The ending sort of threw me for a loop. I didn’t see it coming, and it was rather depressing in how it all played out for Zenobia, Ethan and Mattie.
I think if I had read this first, I might have been more open to Age of Innocence. Finishing Ethan Frome left me wanting more. More cultural analysis, more historical context of an era long-gone, and more of Wharton’s story-telling.