** spoiler alert **
I'm used to long novels that take days if not weeks to read. Well those are my favorites at least. This I finished in less than 4 hours, with interruptions. Edith Wharton was reccommended to me by a fellow goodreads member with reference to my appreciation of Victorian literature. The writing is similar in that it's more formal and stylized, except for the characters' voices of course since this is not about the well educated and well off. But I did not like it as much as I do my favorites because of the dystopian theme. I knew from the first that this was not going to have a Dickensian ending.
I disliked the main character, the novel's namesake, from the start because of his attachment to his wife's relation. Call me a prude, call me old-fashioned, but I do not approve of spouses, real or imagined literary characters, being unfaithful. And to a relative of your spouse, egads! I have a strong aversion to cheating because of seeing it accepted by women during my childhood when everything in my being screamed out for them to punish their husbands for their indiscretions.
I am married and I completely understand the desire to feel the spark of love once it has been snuffed out by years of familiarity. But I am also aware that the spark one may feel for a new person is the same one felt for the one they are presently tied to. I am discomfitted by novels that romanticize the sentiments unfaithful spouses feel for their new playthings. Did Ethan not feel sparks when he first courted his wife? If he did not, why marry her then? Would Ethan not eventually lose the sparks he feels for Mattie as he has lost them for his wife? What makes this new love any stronger, better, or more likely to last than the old one?
Wharton attempts to paint Zeena in a negative light as if she is faking her illness did not have their desired effect on me. I have nothing but sympathy for a woman whose husband is courting her younger relation. The only redeeming quality of this novel is the dystopian ending however much I dislike dystopias. Ethan does not get his utmost desire, Mattie - who willingly partook of her cousin's husbands kisses - is a useless cripple (from what I gather), and Zeena, the slighted but dutiful wife, ends up doing the thing she has always been best at, caring for others.
I am taking a wild guess here that Wharton did not have a happy life since this novel is so miserable and the only other novel of hers of which I know the ending (I've seen the movie but have not read the book) was also equally as miserable. I also assume that either she had an affair or she was the other woman
because it is a common theme with her (I also saw the age of innocence film adaptation). I myself cannot stake claim to a happy life but if I wrote a novel, you can rest assured that the good would get their just rewards and the evil would get their just desserts. I completely understand that real people are more complicated than that and for a novel to be truly great, characters must exist in a dichotomy. But, I still prefer that bad actions have consequences.