One of the things I'd like to do with my blog in 2012 is to return to the serial posts I began in the past which could use some additions. In August, I began a series of Great Novellas, but I only discussed One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Night, and "The Yellow Wallpaper," which is really more of a short story than a novella. To do the genre justice, I have some more to add to the series and am open to further suggestions from all of you.
This story hooked me. I was in the middle of a different book and intended to download Ethan Frome so I could read it after I finished the one I was working on. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the first page, and then I couldn't put it down until I was finished. Wharton's writing is incredibly beautiful and compelling, and I flew through the pages. But I think the most captivating aspect of the story is how very real Ethan seems to be. It really felt like Ethan was a real person rather than a character, as his struggles were so earnest and heart-rending. And yet, appropriately, you can recognize that Ethan is responsible for his position and that he made these choices with which he is now struggling. Ultimately, no one is to blame for his situation, though he undeniably had some difficult circumstances most people don't have to experience at his age. I think this is why I found it to be so compellingly human.
Because of the Introduction, we can sense that tragedy is looming over young Ethan in the flashback, and this foreboding adds a distinct mood to the story. Nevertheless, it is still a bit of a shock when that time comes, and we return quickly to the present-day setting of the Introduction. I think that the structure of this story is powerful, for though the Ethan we meet in the Introduction is consistent with the one we see in the Conclusion, our perspective of him has radically changed. This creates a powerful, heart-breaking ending, which I do not think could have been shared in a more effective way. It amazes me how deep Wharton is able to delve into the character in so few pages, and I think she had remarkable talent to be able to pull it off. As I said at the beginning of this series, it is arguably more difficult to write great work in shorter genres like novellas, for every single word has to count. I believe Ethan Frome is an excellent example of successfully accomplishing this challenge.