Gwen's Reviews > Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
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's review
Feb 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 1000-book-challenge, literary-spinach, must-read-more
Recommended for: fans of gothic romance, lovers of suspense
Read on February 06, 2012 , read count: 1

I'm impressed with the level of suspense this novella managed to create with such a basic story premise. I started reading with the intention of browsing only about 20 pages or so before going to bed, and instead I felt the need to read just a bit more each time I tried to find a stopping point, until I had finished the whole thing in one sitting.

The hook of "mysterious antisocial person has a dark past" isn't exactly a unique one, but I swear it manages to sucker me every time. Once it was clear to me that this was going to be a romantic tragedy, I was prepared to smirk at the oncoming sentimentalism. But I think the author managed to hit the right notes, and any twee moments between Ethan and Mattie were offset by the creepy tension created by his dominating, pathologically manipulative wife. I also liked how author kept me guessing as to how much of Ethan's narration was honest and how much was merely his own perception of events. I felt early on that it could be possible he might do something drastic to his wife to be with the girl he loved, only to find out that the dynamic between the two women was actually different than how he had perceived it and that Mattie had never really felt anything for him from the beginning.

However, that uncertainty was what most made me feel inclined to keep reading. The frame narrator was pretty honest up front that things were not going to end well, but there were at least half a dozen ways this scenario could play out. Was he going to do something irreversible only to be rejected for another suitor? Was he going to lose his wife the way he had lost his mother, only to have Mattie start becoming another miserable hypochondriac? Were the women just going to have it out directly with each other, leading to one murdered and the other arrested and hanged? There were so many ways this story could had played out, but I didn't see the way it ended coming until almost the point when it actually happened (apparently there were clues planted earlier according to other reviews I read afterwards describing the symbolism, but fortunately I didn't read this in a literature class which dwelled upon such things, so I didn't perceive them as heavy-handed).

I just enjoyed the potentiality of how many directions the plot could have taken to get to the state of the beginning frame, a sort of Schrödinger's story. This is exactly the sort of storytelling which I would love to master, and I'm curious to read more Wharton to see if they are as delightfully suspenseful.

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