Really more of an lengthy short story than an actual novel, Edith Wharton's most famous book is the story of a simple man who, trapped in a loveless marriage to a hypochondriac wife, falls in love and/or obsession with his wife's cousin. Does this sound like a Lifetime movie of the week? Well, despite numerous reviews on Amazon to the contrary, Ethan Frome is about as far from Lifetime's weekly slice of estrogenated tripe as can be. Rather than a feel-good romance, Ethan Frome is a tragic character study, a forbidden love story, and twisted morality tale all rolled into 99 compact pages.
Deconstructing the plot is unnecessary, since there really isn't much to speak of. The one line summary in the first paragraph of this review tells you everything you should know going into the story, but the straightforward story isn't a problem, since the characters are the real objects of interest. There's the titular Ethan Frome, brooding, shy, and obsessive, Zeena the self-absorbed (and perpetually ill) wife, and Mattie, the vivacious cousin living with them. There are other characters, but it is around this trinity that the events unfold.
The writing itself is absolutely gorgeous. I am not exagerrating when I say that Wharton has produced some of the most evocative prose I have ever read. Her descriptions of the house, the snow, the lovers themselves, all ring true and deeply, and there are a number of moments to catch in your throat. Ethan Frome is a tidy little tome, and well worth the couple hours spent reading it.