Has there been a film version?
Yes – in 1993. It stars Joan Allen and Liam Neeson and is excellent.
Who are the important characters?
Ethan Frome – a crippled man who owns a mill
Zeena Frome – Ethan’s hypochondriac wife
Mattie Silver – Zeena’s cousin and nursemaid
What’s it about?
While the first and last chapters are told by an unnamed narrator, this is primarily the story of how Ethan Frome came to be so disfigured. Ethan is an intelligent man who dreams of escaping the small town of Starkfield, Massachusetts. Just when it seems he might be able to leave, his mother falls ill and is taken care of by a sturdy young woman named Zeena. When Mrs. Frome dies, Ethan hastily asks Zeena to marry him – more out of fear of being alone than out of love. But soon after their marriage, Zeena becomes a hypochondriac and requires constant attention. The mill begins to fail and Ethan realizes he’s doomed to stay in Starkfield forever. Zeena’s destitute cousin, Mattie, arrives to take care of her and Ethan finds himself falling for Mattie. And he will do whatever it takes to keep her in his life.
Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
Because it’s a short, poignant tragedy, and it’s by Edith Wharton.
Do you recommend I read this book?
Yes, it’s quite good.
How did this book make your list?
I wanted to read it after seeing the movie.
Has it won any awards?
“The motions of her mind were as incalculable as the flit of a bird in the branches.” – p 35
“It was one of those days when the glitter of winter shines through a pale haze of spring.” – p 103
It was a little hard to read the book knowing the end already from watching the movie. But the writing was still beautiful, and for me, a lot easier to read than other Wharton works I’ve tackled. With only three main characters, there was more than enough character development for me (the character development junkie). And the tension was perfectly handled between the three of them. Wharton did a lovely job with describing Starkfield and how bleak it was – socially and geographically. I can’t really say anything else except that reading it felt like looking at a perfectly pieced together puzzle.