This is a short novel – a novella in fact. Set in Massachusetts the story revolves around three main characters. A stranger arrives in town and sees the broken figure of Ethan Frome outside the post office – in the coming days he is able to learn something of Ethan’s life and the events which lead to the accident which left him maimed.
Ethan is married to Zenobia, (or Zeena) an older wife apparently sickly she focuses all her energies on her health. Into their poor home comes Mattie Silver, Zenobia’s young cousin. Ethan finds himself trapped in an unhappy unfulfilling life – he develops strong feelings for Mattie who in turn seems to share his feelings. In Mattie Ethan sees the possibilities of a happy life – he imagines how this could be achieved.
Right from the start the reader just knows this story will not be a happy ever after. The tension in the story is perfect as it builds slowly, and the characters beautifully crafted and observed. It is quite wonderful how Edith Wharton has managed to create a sense of past and present for these tragic characters. The ending therefore is horribly inevitable. Set against a backdrop of a Massachusetts winter, the bleak surroundings of the Frome small holding and the bitter dynamics of the three people who live there make for an enormously readable story. The beautiful cold stark imagery that Wharton managed to portray in her writing, will I imagine stay with me for a long time.