On a summer’s day, back when I was eleven, I complained to my mother about the heat and she gave me a book to read. It was Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton. I retreated to the shade and flicked to the first page. In that moment, my world opened up. I slipped through the sweaty fingers of a sub-tropical Queensland summer into a land promising the scent of fir trees, the sight of snow and the kiss of a lavender sky.
Edith Wharton showed me a different kind of life; a gnarled knot of an existence, chilled by wind, beaten down by rain and snow, and encrusted with ice. This life, in all of its cold remoteness, belonged to a man called Ethan Frome. He was so far from me and yet he seemed so close. He was so near I could hear the dull throb of loneliness pounding against his heart like a hammer. The sear of his frustration rubbed like old ropes pulled taut against bare skin. The pain, stretching and breaking and bleeding, was sharp as a blade until it was met with a forbidden balm. Love: pale pink and shimmering, fierce red and burning.
Mattie, bright and blushing and dewy-eyed, twirled into his life like a spinning top. She glittered more than his wife’s green glass pickle dish that broke into pieces. She glowed brighter than the gasoline lamp he held out for her at night. Her laughter was more musical than the band at their church hall and even her surname, Silver, hinted at her great value.
By the end, I handed Ethan and Mattie my heart. Then they broke it, right there on the page. I cried deep icy sobs for Ethan Frome when the light of hope went out.
Claire Byrnes is a writer who lives in Brisbane, Australia. She has studied creative writing at Stanford University and the Queensland University of Technology. Claire loves stories which take her back in time. She is currently working on a literary mystery novel, set in the 1930s and present day Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter @cdbyrnes.