Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton (2)

Being a fella is tough business. We’re easily disappointed, by our jobs, our families, our selves. In addition to the original sin of discontent, we have overactive imaginations that are, as everyone knows, easily triggered by visual stimuli. It doesn’t take much, either. Go to the gym and you’ll see guys staring at themselves in the mirror like red-shouldered blackbirds. Go to the mall and you’ll see hapless blokes walking briskly down thoroughfares only to be distracted by the sight of a scantily clad mannequin. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself. And don’t go to Victoria’s Secret, either. Macy’s will do. Now if fellas are prone to dissatisfaction, as the vast majority of us are, just imagine the anguish of poor Ethan Frome. He has cared for sick people his entire adult life, first his dad and mom, then his wife Zeena. In the summer, he works his farm and sawmill from sun up till sun down. And then he retires to his shabby house, exhausted. In the winter, his village, aptly named Starksfield, lies under bitter cold and heavy snow like a cast iron lid. And since it’s in the early 1900s, there are no distractions. There’s no YMCA, no theaters, no shopping malls, no library—nothing. Actually, there is one thing, already mentioned, a man’s vulnerable mind and overactive imagination. Beware, the constant ever-present dream of escape, of new beginnings and fresh horizons! The irresistible illusion of tabula rasa, of broad paths and open spaces! Like a black magician, the imagination plays him for a fool. No wonder Ethan is smitten by a mediocre wench and her little patch of red. She spangles, yes, she does. And you’d be spangled, too.

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