Ethan Frome is more of a novella than a full length novel. However that is not to say that the story lacks any of the depth of longer novels. No indeed as the precise and yet beautiful language aids to promote a very deep and in many ways chilling tragedy of a tale.
If I were to subtitle Ethan Frome it could read something like: 'or why not to marry a hypochondriac wife and then allow a young attractive girl to board at your house.' Of course I suspect the subtitle would be rather long, be impractical and would mutate into some grammatical nightmare.
However the imaginary subtitle does reveal the basic premise of this text. Ethan Frome trapped in a loveless marriage feels led to seek love in Mattie Silver, his wife's energetic cousin. And naturally this leads to conflict and a fascinating ending.
Yes indeed the ending of Ethan Frome is more than fascinating. It is downright shocking and tragic. Ethan Frome is no light read for anyone who wants a happy romantic tale. In the end Ethan From ends up as a tale of sorrow. I feel that this novel ends up serving as a conveyor of the warning that happiness is not found within pleasurable emotions. I feel though that like many literary novels Wharton merely writes this warning without providing any answers. What instead is true happiness found within? Where is fulfilment and peace observed? The novel would become far stronger if any hint of an answer were to be found within rather than a simple warning.