Ethan Frome is set in a fictional New England town named Starkfield, where an unnamed narrator tells the story of his encounter with Ethan Frome, a man with dreams and desires that end in an ironic turn of events. The narrator tells the story based on an account from observations at Frome's house when he had to stay there during a winter storm. The novel is framed by the literary device of an extended flashback. The first chapter opens with an unnamed male narrator spending a winter in Starkfield. He sets out to learn about the life of a mysterious local figure named Ethan Frome, a man who had been injured in a horrific smash-up twenty-four years before. Frome is described as "the most striking figure in Starkfield, the ruin of a man with a careless powerful look in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain. The narrator fails to get many details from the townspeople. However, the narrator hires Frome as his driver for a week. A severe snowstorm forces Frome to take the narrator to his home one night for shelter. Just as the two are entering Frome's house, the first chapter ends. The second chapter flashes back twenty-four years; the narration switches from the first-person narrator of the first chapter to a limited third-person narrator. Ethan is waiting outside a church dance for Mattie, his wife’s cousin, who lives with Ethan and his wife Zeena (Zenobia) to help around the house since Zeena is sickly. Mattie is given the occasional night off to entertain herself in town as partial recompense for taking care of the Frome family without pay, and Ethan has fallen into the habit of walking her home. It is made clear that Ethan has deep feelings for Mattie, and it is equally clear that Zeena suspects these feelings and does not approve.