Book a Day: Ethan Frome


Unofficially, I have moved from reading one book a day to a book every other day. I’m just too scheduled in the evening to have time to snuggle down before bed and finish a novel each night. (And I know you’re there, too.) So the first two books took me a day each, but then the next three took me two days each. Still going at pretty good clip.

I have read Ethan Frome before. Before I began blogging as The Starving Artist, I had a paper copy of a list of a few hundred books that I wanted to read, and Edith Wharton played into it somehow and she was randomized to the top. Or something like that. Because I don’t know how I got from her more well-known stuff (House of Mirth, Age of Innocence, etc.) to Ethan Frome. Maybe it was a book club? This was quite some time ago.

What I do remember is being impressed by Ethan Frome. (My husband remembers me making him watch the movie.) So when it was standing there all skinny on the shelf, I was happy to be able to re-read it and write a review.

Ethan Frome is what I call “atmospheric.” It is darker and more depressing than I usually enjoy, but this classic is just done so well. The tension throughout is amazing, and it takes Wharton so little time to draw a very memorable story peopled with memorable characters. Her language is beautiful, and her scene setting is admirable. If you are one of those contemporary-only readers, this book will fall outside of that (having been written in a taking place in the 1800s.) I’ll talk more about the author when I get to her larger works and I’m not reading a book a day.

I believe I enjoyed Ethan Frome the second time as much as I did the first. There’s nothing about this book that’s very happy, and you get caught up in this isolated 1800s town of hard work, poverty, and deep, deep snow, but you’re sitting on the edge of your seat watching the tragedy unfold. The suspense doesn’t come from wondering if it will be a tragedy–that is spelled out in the introduction–but in how it will go down. And it is a doozy.

Speaking of the introduction, it is unabashedly old-fashioned, the way Wharton sets up the book. (In fact, it reminded me of The Scarlet Letter so much in this way, which I have also read in the last several months. Review forthcoming.) As a modern reader, you could skip it. We’re too sophisticated for the guy-finding-out-the-story-and-telling-it-to-us-a-la-Wuthering-Heights. I get it. Just move on to the story, if that’s how you feel about it.

So obviously, I recommend this quick read, and I can’t wait to try some other Edith Wharton novels.


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