Happy new year, everyone! Ethan Frome is my first read of 2018, and it is also my re-read for the 2018 Back to the Classics challenge. I first read this book when I was a junior in high school. It was one I remember liking, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. Rather than re-reading one of my favorites such as The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye, I decided to give this one another chance as I wasn’t sure I had fully understood the story at 15 years old.
I’m really glad this is the one I chose.
This is a book that requires some life experience to truly understand the themes. Ethan Frome is a poor man who lives in Starkfield, MA. If you’ve ever experienced a New England winter, you understand the brutality of it. The snow gets so tall that you can quite literally step from the roof of your house onto a mound of snow. Now, imagine being stuck in that in 1911 with no power, no transportation other than a horse and buggy, and a hypochondriac wife.
To be honest, I didn’t remember much of the book from the first time I read it. I don’t know if that’s because it’s been so many years or because it just didn’t leave an impression on my adolescent brain. There are a few twists in the book that I won’t spoil here, but my initial reaction toward Frome during my re-read was that he was, quite frankly, an asshole. How could he think ill thoughts of his sick wife while he takes her cousin as a mistress?
As I got to the end of the book, I realized he’s a victim of circumstance. He’d taken care of his sick mother during his teenage years and, despite the help of his wife, Zeena, his mother had died during a brutal winter only to join the headstones in the Frome graveyard that seemed to taunt Ethan. He never wanted to end up as just another headstone with an engraving that detailed his many years stuck with his wife in that house. He wanted to move to a big city to become an engineer, but poverty and desperation caused him to act on emotional impulses. Now he’s just a man with a limp stuck in the cold winters of Starkfield, MA.
If you haven’t read this classic, I highly recommend it. Edith Warton put together such a volatile story in a short amount of pages. It only took me a couple hours to re-read, and I’m sure it will now have a lasting impression on me. I’m thankful for the back to the classics challenge for inspiring me to read this, and I’m excited to dive into more classics as the year goes on.