Book covers: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, The Golden Bowl by Henry James, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty, Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, The Witch Elm by Tana French, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

6 Degrees of Separation: A Convoluted Journey

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we start with the classic novella Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

1. I never think of Edith Wharton without also thinking about her friend and correspondent Henry James. A prominent figure in Ethan Frome is a broken pickle dish that symbolizes the broken lives of the characters. Henry James also wrote a novel about another kind of dish that contains a flaw, The Golden Bowl, which, according to Goodreads, is “the most controversial, ambiguous, and sophisticated of James’s novels.”

2. The Golden Bowl easily suggests The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, the first book in the His Dark Material series. I read this book when it first came out, but I did not understand it at all.

3. From Philip Pullman’s novel we travel to the city of Pullman, Washington, USA. Buckle up, because this is a very convoluted journey. Pullman, WA, is the home of Washington State University. Just last week, on the day after Thanksgiving, the Washington State Cougars humiliated the University of Washington Huskies by the score of 40-13 in the annual intrastate rivalry football game known as the Apple Cup. Finally, we have arrived at the novel Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty.

4. The title of Moriarty’s novel is the first half of the common adage “apples never fall far from the tree.” My next book completes the adage: Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon.

5. Toby, the main character in Tana French’s novel The Witch Elm, hasn’t fallen far from the tree in the back yard of his ancestral home. When younger family members discover a skull in the tree’s trunk, Toby is forced to remember the past and reconsider who he has become. 

6. A tree is also the focal point of the main character’s life story in the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. One could even call this tree a symbol, which brings us back around to Wharton’s use of symbolism in Ethan Frome.

For the record, I would like to declare that I don’t believe that adage about apples not falling far from the (family) tree. However, the association between degrees 3 and 4 is just too good to pass up.

I hope you have enjoyed this literary journey that includes what is probably the biggest stretch of free association I’ve ever subjected my brain to. As always, I look forward to seeing where this exercise takes other readers.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

14 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation: A Convoluted Journey”

  1. Oh, you have just reminded me that my husband and I were listening to the audiobook of A tree grows in Brooklyn when we sold our car and got a modern one without cd player. In all the excitement we forgot completely about Tree. Must get the eAudio And finish it.

    Loved your links, particularly to James, and the adage!

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks for commenting. I read The Golden Compass because it was billed as a non-religious fantasy, in the vein of Chronicles of Narnia. But I couldn’t find any meaning in it at all, and I wasn’t willing to read 2 more long books to see of the trilogy made more sense overall. But your experience might be different from mine.

  2. I too instantly thought of Henry James when I thought of Edith Wharton, and I actually rather liked Andrew Salomon’s book, which was an interesting discussion of nature vs. nurture. I have to say your move from Pullman to Liane Moriarty took some nimble footwork (or brainwork).

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Yes, that move from Pullman to Liane Moriarty is quite a stretch, but it was either that or start all over again. And Salomon’s book interested me when it came out, as I love contemplating the nature-nurture question, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. This is certainly a different chain, I enjoyed the interesting way in which you linked the books – I am no good at this lateral thinking!

    I discovered Edith Wharton by listening to Ethan Frome on BBC Sounds last year, and I then also listened to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and The Portrait of a Lady. Although I had previously read Daisy Miller, I don’t think I would have persevered with either of these authors if they hadn’t been available in this format – they both seem to have ‘difficult’ stamped all over them – so I’m glad I found them on Sounds as I enjoyed them both. They do seem to go together.

    And thanks for the enlightemment re the broken pickle dish, I hadn’t thought about what it symbolised at all!

    I do have a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it’s a book I certainly intend to read before too long. The Tana French you mentioned also sounds interesting.

    This is my chain if you have time to read it:

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks for your comment, Rosemary. The Witch Elm is interesting but not quite as good overall as French’s Dublin Murder Series entries, I thought. And you’ll probably like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It’s a real timeless classic.

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