If you’ve been following my blog, you must know about my longstanding aversion to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The fact that I was forced to read Heart of Darkness over ten times and write even more papers about it— gives the book’s title more meaning and as the author, make’s Conrad’s inspiration for the title pretty obvious to me. If I made a list entitled “Hayley Rose’s Least-Favorite-Most-Hated Literature of All Time,” though Heart of Darkness would surely dominate it, I can say with assurance that it would have company, ahem, Ethan Frome.
What is this book really about anyways? Well, I’ll be honest, though it was much easier to comprehend than Heart of Darkness, it was equally boring. Dare I say, even more boring? On a scale of One to Five Snoozes, I would give Ethan Frome Five Snoozes (while I might be more generous with Heart of Darkness by giving it a shining Four and a Half). The book’s narrative is told through both the voice of an out-of-towner looking into Frome’s life, and through the use of flashback. The out-of-towner exists in real time, and happens upon Frome, an older man with an unusual limp. The narrator will be staying in town for a few weeks and becomes very curious as to what caused Frome’s injury; so curious that he hires Frome to be his driver with the ulterior motive of finding out his secret.
Flashback to before Frome got the injury. Frome is married to a very grumpy Zeena. Zeena is ill. It is difficult for Frome to care for her while earning a wage, so Zeena’s cousin Mattie moves in to assist. Frome and Mattie fall in love. One day, Zeena leaves home for a few days for a special medical treatment. She is unaware that it is not in her best interest to leave Ethan and Mattie alone together; that this was, of course, a terrible idea. While Zeena is gone, Mattie prepares a fine dinner for Ethan, so fine that she takes the good pickle dish, the one that is never to be used, off the highest shelf and uses it to adorn the table. Of course, Zeena’s cat ruins everything when it accidentally breaks the pickle dish.
I remember sitting there in class stoned as my teacher droned on and on about this God damned pickle dish. Why does she keep talking about a pickle dish? A pickle dish? What the hell is a pickle dish? You would think by the way she went on and on about that pickle dish that she might have an Ethan Frome of her own living at home.
Ethan puts the broken pickle dish back into the cabinet and plans to go to the store to buy glue. By the time Ethan gets back with the glue, Zeena has arrived home unexpectedly, and has already made plans to banish Mattie from the residence forever. I guess she found the pickle dish. In a last ditch effort, Ethan plans to run away with Mattie. He secures a loan from a shop keeper who comments, “You’re such a good man, the way you take care of Zeena.” After hearing that, Ethan is ridden with guilt and can no longer leave with Mattie. Instead he decides to go the more practical route: a double suicide, death by bob-sled. Yes, bob-sled. Ethan, being the brain that he is, is a man with a plan. He and Mattie will ride the sled down the steepest hill in town until their path is met with a big pine tree.
The two prepare themselves for the impact. As they get close to the tree, Ethan, a man gifted with not only wits but excellent judgement, has second thoughts and veers to the side. Though he veers the sled to the side, he fails to miss the tree. Mattie is thrown from the sled and paralyzed for life, while Ethan ends up with a debilitating injury -an inquisitive limp, the callback in stand-up comedic terms.
The book ends when the out-of-towner is forced to stay over Frome’s house over night because of an impeding snow storm. Once there, he sees what has happened. Mattie, Zeena, and Ethan are still living together in Frome’s house. Mattie is paralyzed and miserable, while Ethan isn’t doing so well himself. It is Zeena, the previously ailing one, who now to cares for the two of them. The End
Did Edith Warton really need 195 pages to tell a story that I could summarize in one terse sentence? Here it goes:
Life sucks, then you die, or in Ethan’s case, almost die but get maimed instead. The end.
I’d really love to hear what other titles you would add to the list of “Least-Favorite-Most-Hated Literature of All Time.”
Please share in the comments section.