Edith Wharton is at her narrative best in this novel about a young man who falls in love until fate tragically intervenes. Wharton deftly constructs the story by starting a generation after the climax, then weaves her way back to the beginning to unravel the mystery. In doing so, she creates the tension in the novel which keeps the reader obsessively turning the pages.
Mattie Silver, a young beauty, serves as a sharp contrast to Ethan’s wife, Zeena – a bitter, sickly woman who is perhaps more aware of Ethan’s feelings than he is of his own. It is no wonder that the reader will find herself hoping for happiness between Ethan and Mattie who seem to be soulmates:
And there were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow. – From Ethan Frome, page 297 –
Wharton’s firm grasp of setting, her understanding of human vulnerability, and her sense of drama all combine to make Ethan Frome a compelling must read.
I came across a love of moving water kneeling in the current of Caudel Run, the small creek behind our home in Kentucky, whose waters were as clear and cold as my fear, falling over black ledges of slate, gatheing in white sluices of anguish, numbing my feet, blueing the skin. I could hold the water in my hands and bring it to my mouth. –From Beachcoming for a Shipwrecked God, page 8 –
When Charlotte’s husband dies suddenly, she flees from her home in Kentucky to New Hampshire to escape her memories and her overbearing in-laws. There she meets Grace – an elderly woman with a sharp wit and an uncanny ability to fool others with her realistic paintings – and Chloe, a seventeen year old girl who battles a weight problem and an abusive boyfriend. It doesn’t take Charlotte long to join an archeological dig and begin to uncover secrets from the past.
Coomer combines a love of the water with archeological details to establish a setting which draws the reader in. He creates characters who thrum with life. Weaving through the story line is the idea of creating a life – past, present and future. Charlotte wishes to escape her memories and bury her past; for Grace going “to Heaven without my memory” is unthinkable; for Chloe, just starting out, the future is full of memories to be made.
At times, the novel stumbles and becomes too predictable, but Coomer rights it quickly and takes the reader to a satisfying conclusion.