I adored my English teacher in high school, Mrs. Reed. She was smart and articulate, and her native intelligence wrapped around everything she said like a fur-lined cloak on a cold winter day. She was an older woman from the old school of English lit, so through all the classes I took from her (four years worth!), there was an emphasis on the classics.
I look back at that time in my life and feel lucky I received encouragement from the three women who mattered to me the most at the time: my girlfriend (Victoria), my mom, and Mrs. Reed.
And man oh man, I would argue with all three of them! You could say I was a bit hot-blooded back then when it came to books.
Now I did not argue often with Victoria. Victoria was not a girl you argued with, especially when it came to books and writing. Partly because she was so much smarter than I was, partly because it was hard to argue with someone who was so damn pretty. And her writing was extraordinary. She would write me poems that would leave me breathless.
But I digress.
Mrs. Reed and I got along fabulously, except for one little book: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Mrs. Reed loved that book. She loved the moralistic tale, the turning of events, and the irony.
I hated it. Mainly because I was a young man, and, when it comes right down to it, Ethan Frome might as well been set in New York City with a pink martini glass on the cover. It was chic lit. Wordy chic lit.
Mrs. Reed claimed the book was a great study in irony and had merits because it did not have a happy ending. She was confused that I did not like Ethan Frome, because we often talked about sugarcoated books and their emptiness.
I agreed about the irony, but I also pointed out that the book seemed less of a morality tale, and more of base projection. And not cleaver projection either.
The test for Ethan Frome rolls around and I get a C+. One of my worst test scores I have ever received. Ever.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I stopped reading the book.”
“What? But you correctly answered key questions about the ending!”
“I guessed; the book is so predictable.”
“I am disappointed in you, Mr. Pacheco.”
Oh man, okay, I admit, I felt a little bit bad. For three seconds. Because, we were talking about ETHAN FROME here, folks. The book is a TORTURE DEVICE for BOYS and YOUNG MEN.
Thus ended the great Ethan Frome controversy. I never did finish Ethan Frome, and I am sure Mrs. Reed never did read the The Lathe of Heaven.
But I can relate one thing. Boys in high school who read books like The Lathe of Heaven would rather get the WORST TEST SCORE EVER, than read Ethan Frome. Looking back, however, I treasure that argument. I think about Ethan Frome, and smile wistfully, putting me in the 0.00000000008% category of Men Who Smile Over Ethan Frome (per males born in the US from 1909 to 1999). Mrs. Reed, I tip my wine glass to you.