Hidden Gems: Everyone Loves a Good Tragedy!


Miranda Kawiecki and Melinda Reed

Hidden Gems is the Hilltopper’s regular guide to the world of reading, where our staff members share the best books no one is talking about. This edition features Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and Love Story by Erich Segal.


Ethan Frome: Chasing Happiness and Failing Miserably

by Miranda Kawiecki


Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton is short; and yet, it is anything but sweet and simple. 

I discovered this novella buried within my middle school history teacher’s storage closet. The school, where my mother worked, was closing for the summer, and I cradled boxes of books in my arms between classrooms. My history teacher passed me stacks of books to take home.

“Here, take this one,” she said as she tossed Ethan Frome at the pinnacle of the mountainous pile. “I think you’ll be able to appreciate it.”

I was skeptical at first. I read the summary on the back: a man, Ethan Frome, pines for his ailing wife’s youthful cousin. Ethan Frome sounded like a pretty terrible guy. However, like how Ethan became completely infatuated with his wife’s cousin Mattie, I fell in love with the story. 

Wharton beautifully encapsulates human suffering through her small cast of three characters. Ethan Frome takes the lead, a tragic hero whom the reader can’t help but feel pity for. In a small Massachusetts village, the depressed, unfulfilled Ethan and his chronically ill wife Zeena live a poor farmer’s life. Ethan is “trapped” in the duties of marriage, as his ungrateful wife cannot care for herself. But when Mattie, energetic, dreamy and young, enters the Fromes’ home as an indentured servant, Ethan’s life is forever changed. He is thrown into the entrails of love and is ultimately torn between choosing happiness or responsibility. As Ethan suffers through this internal conflict, the reader comes to the tragic conclusion that this decision is far from his reach. 

The words “classic literature” are often accompanied by a grimace. Unlike the loitering writing style of Nathanial Hawthorne (no hate, I promise), Edith Wharton’s writing is to-the-point and engrossing. One of the best aspects of the book is the ending as it is so painfully ironic. Ethan Frome is a story that will have you contemplating what happens to the characters in the future, even though the chapters came to close. 

Ethan Frome is timeless and an overall great read. Its plot feels like the dead of winter, and its conclusion, heartbreak. 


Love Story: Guess How This One Ends!

by Melinda Reed


What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

It was those words, sitting there on the page, that grabbed me freshman year and haven’t let go since. Because who can put a book down after that? There’s no suspense, no cliffhanger; you know she will die. But you read on anyway, because there’s magic in the words that follow.

I was in the library for who knows what reason— maybe because I’ve always found comfort in the presence of books, or maybe because my freshman English class was doing some sort of research activity— when I saw the thin, forest green spine of that book. It was wintertime. I remember this specifically because everything was dreary and the windows in the library looked out over bare, brittle trees. But in the warmth of the room, I saw this book with a name on its spine in gold letters: Love Story.

I was sold. I picked it up, sat back down, opened the first page, and fell into it. I finished the book— which only adds up to about 125 pages— a few hours later at home, in tears, of course, because how can something start with that sentence and end happily?

But I loved it anyway and with my whole heart. Part of it was because I was still a freshman, scared of everything and trapped in the endlessness of winter, and I needed the sort of comfort only a good book could provide. The other part is that I just think it’s an example of great, if not perfect, writing. 

Here’s the backstory: Erich Segal, screenwriter, author, professor, wrote a script for a movie called Love Story. When it was picked up, the studio asked that he write it as a novel to promote the movie. He did, and it spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list.

So obviously it’s not a hidden gem. If I were a true connoisseur, I’d find something originally written in French and translated by Jack Kerouac when he was still in college that no one, not even Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club, has heard of. But I’m not, and I’d argue that this still counts as a hidden gem.

My favorite thing about libraries is that they are the places where things are lost and found. If you go to Barnes and Noble, you’ll have two types of fiction: new books, and classics that were so good we’re still talking about them. Libraries do not discriminate. Like old hoarders, they keep and save every beat up copy of every book that time forgot. There, you can find the truly bad, the truly mediocre, and sometimes, the truly great.

So I call Love Story a hidden gem because when I went to look for it at Barnes and Noble, I couldn’t find it. It was a hit, but it was no Jane Eyre, and no booksellers felt the need to have it in stock. My hunt for my own copy of Love Story only ended at a used bookstore in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I bought the hard copy with a paperback of Our Town for a total of $15. 

Clearly, it was no longer flying off the shelves.

However, I maintain that it is truly great. You shouldn’t look to it as an example of the finest, most complex sentences in the English language, or the most realistic dialogue, or the most quoteworthy lines (“Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry” should not have been the one thing we all got out of it). But it’s brilliant because of the complexity within its very simplicity, of the rawness of the utterly unrealistic dialogue, and all the lines that still haunt me to this day (“I’m not talking legality, Preppie, I’m talking ethics”). 

I’ve reread it each winter of my high school career, which makes this the fourth time I’m reading it. This is not obsessive for me, since I have books I reread, some regularly and others irregularly. Each time I find something new to love, and this year it has been the brilliance of Segal’s writing.

By brilliance, I mean how effortless he makes it seem. The characters and the book have a life of their own, like it was meant to exist even if he wasn’t there to write it down. And despite the fact that it’s obviously a tragic book, it still manages to be funny. As an example, here is one of my favorite parts, when our leads meet at the Radcliffe library:


Christ, a superior-being type! The kind who think since the ratio of Radcliffe to Harvard is five to one, the girls must be five times as smart. I normally cut these types to ribbons, but just then I badly needed that goddamn book.


“Listen, I need that goddamn book.”


Let me explain why I like this bit so much. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny or anything like that—  rather, it is a perfect piece of characterization. Up to this point, the reader knows three things about our narrator Oliver: one, that he falls in love with, then loses, someone important to him; two, that he is a senior at Harvard cramming for a test he has the next day; and third, that he walks with a good deal of confidence and entitlement. 

This snippet of dialogue also reveals that he says what he thinks, verbatim. Segal employs this technique a few other times, where we have insight into Oliver’s thoughts and then witness Oliver saying that exact thought aloud. Other than the comedic effect it provides, it also tells the reader that this character has little to no filter. He is confident, going through life an open book, with no one to challenge his belief in himself.

It sets up his entire character arc in just a few lines. Though the reader may not be consciously thinking everything I just said, they understand it on a fundamental level. Now, our attention is drawn to what he thinks and doesn’t say, and how he can’t express himself when it really matters. How Jenny— the female lead and twenty-five-year-old mentioned in the first line— changes him, forces him to be more introspective. 

Reading about how they interact and grow and change to become better people, I always forget how it ends. Their story is a reminder of the vulnerability that always exists somewhere below the surface we’ve created. The right person, whether it be a family member or friend or romantic partner, draws out that vulnerable part of ourselves and forces us to confront it. Oliver and Jenny are young and stupid in love— they clearly have much to learn about decision making and communication— but at the end of the day, they see the other’s vulnerability.

I guess I shouldn’t say anything else about it, because it’s only 125 pages and for every page of analysis I offer I’m spoiling about a third of the book. The only last thing I’ll add is that it has what is, in my opinion, the best last line in literature. My sister did not agree, but then again, what does she know? Just go and read it, and decide for yourself.