Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Greatest Horror Tale of All Time... EVER!!!

Last week, I read Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome for the first time since high school. WOW! While I had vivid memories of the tragic dénouement of the novella, I had totally forgotten the framing device, the fact that this was, indeed, a story-within-a-story, the facts of which were pieced together by an unnamed narrator.

Reading the book in high school was a different experience than reading it as an adult. A teenager is less sensitive to the horrifying sense of entrapment and helplessness felt by the main characters in the book. The protagonist, a decent man crushed by a lifetime of bad luck, hasn't got a hope in hell- trapped by his sense of duty, and the vindictiveness of his wife, he finally succumbs to despondency, and he even screws up his ill-advised exit from his untenable situation.

The work, while published in 1911, has a modern feel to it- Wharton's prose is lean, and her portrayal of rural life is unsentimental and morally ambiguous. It is a truly harrowing tale, and for sheer power to chill the blood, it beats any "genre" fiction hands down. If I were to give ratings, I'd probably give this novel nine glossy pates out of a possible ten.

N.B.: I usually read pulp "horror" fiction for laughs- the only HPL story that I find genuinely unsettling is The Colour Out of Space, which, much like Ethan Frome ***SPOILER ALERT*** has to do with a rural New England family having the life slowly sucked out of it.

18 comments:

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

hmpf. No zombizzles.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Well, you can always
remedy that.

Jennifer said...

Oh! I love to do that! I've reread many books that I read in high school... what a different a decade or two under the belt makes. You feel them on an entirely different level.

I think most of the lit I read in high school was about people having the life sucked out of them.

The one thing I'll never forget about Ethan Frome was my teacher saying, "Imagine the outcome had the story taken place in spring and not the dead of winter...."

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I think most of the lit I read in high school was about people having the life sucked out of them.

there's a lot of horror movies like that, too.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

"Imagine the outcome had the story taken place in spring and not the dead of winter...."

Poor Ethan never could catch a break! I just wish a better explanation had been given for Zeena's personality. Maybe she was just a proto-teabagger?

hmpf. No zombizzles.

Now I am picturing a sled outfitted with a razor-sharp blade at the leading edge...

Aunt Snow said...

worth a read!

Jennifer said...

That's true... I don't remember a good reason for Zeena being the way she was (aside from the illness), and yet everyone knew someone like that and could relate. I think everyone had a great aunt or neighbor who was a bitter,tormenting crank.

Of course, I haven't read this one in eons so I may be remembering incorrectly.

Now I am picturing a sled outfitted with a razor-sharp blade at the leading edge...

And when the zombie finally decides to become fully dead... he'll mutter the name of this sled on his deathbed.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

And when the zombie finally decides to become fully dead... he'll mutter the name of this sled on his deathbed.

Roseblood

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I think most of the lit I read in high school was about people having the life sucked out of them.

I remember reading a book about a boy who 'killed' his older brother when they were hunting and a rifle leaned against a fence fell over.

I can't remember the title, but I got it. It was either freshmen or sophomore English class.
~

Jennifer said...

Roseblood is perfect.

a boy who 'killed' his older brother when they were hunting and a rifle leaned against a fence fell over.

I think that was from the unabridged version of Bambi.

M. Bouffant said...

Mr. Bastard, I am starting to suspect you don't own (or use) a telebision set.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Mr. Bastard, I am starting to suspect you don't own (or use) a telebision set.

You are correct, sir, but I may break down and buy one, along with the newly-reduced-in-price XBOX360 (so I can play Halo3, in which one can vicariously blow away alien religious fanatics, and both Bioshock titles, in which one can vicariously blow away Objectivist mutants).

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Thunder, I think the book is The Stone Boy by
Gina Berriault.

Von said...

I think I'll have to add this to my summer reading list.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

It's a quick read, Von, but a really depressing one.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

And when the zombie finally decides to become fully dead... he'll mutter the name of this sled on his deathbed.

I DO have sledding stories.

I only tell them in person, when people are plying me with alcohol.

Jennifer said...

I only tell them in person, when people are plying me with alcohol.

Guess we'll be hearing them soon enough...

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Jennifer is coming to summerfest?

In other news, I am inordinately proud that when you goofle "Summerfest Blog" my site comes up....

Look, you take your triumphs where you can.