Ethan Frome drove in silence ... he seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight ... but had in it the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters.
As much as I love Edith Wharton's writing is how much I didn't love Ethan Frome the first time I read it. Which is why I felt the need to give it a second chance. It's not a long novel, and there are really only three main characters: Ethan Frome, Zeena, his grim and ailing wife whose "fault-finding was of the silent kind", and Mattie Silver, his wife's younger cousin whose coming to their house to help Zeena out brought "a bit of hopeful life (that) was like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth" to Ethan's dreary existence. The harsh Massachusetts winter also plays an important role in this tragic tale.
Ethan's life is a series of misfortune, struggle, and bad luck. Even his marriage is a disappointing mistake. Only in Mattie does he glimpse a sympathetic companion and the hope of some future happiness. But Zeena's penchant for "complaints and troubles" makes even that dream impossible. And that leads to tragedy. As I reread this book last week, I felt only sympathy for Ethan Frome. He deserved better than what he got, but life can be hard and unfair. This is such a sad novel, but it's so beautifully written. And while it will never be my favorite, I do like it more than I did. Mostly because of Wharton's artistry and skill--her writing is so stylish and elegant--but also because this second time reading Ethan Frome helped me to appreciate it, and him, a little bit more.