Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Odds

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan
Penguin Group, 2012
Hardcover, 192 pages
ISBN-13: 9780670023165

Stewart O'Nan's thirteenth novel is another wildly original, bittersweet gem like his celebrated Last Night at the Lobster. Valentine's weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara Falls, desperate to recoup their losses. Jobless, with their home approaching foreclosure and their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion liquidate their savings account and book a bridal suite at the Falls' ritziest casino for a second honeymoon. While they sightsee like tourists during the day, at night they risk it all at the roulette wheel to fix their finances-and save their marriage. A tender yet honest exploration of faith, forgiveness and last chances, The Odds is a reminder that love, like life, is always a gamble.

My Thoughts:

Unabashedly, I'm declaring my personal Stewart O'Nan fan club is back in session.

In The Odds Stewart O'Nan explores a marriage in crisis. Art and Marion Fowler have lost their jobs, are heading for bankruptcy, about to lose their home, and are on the brink of divorce. In a last ditch effort to salvage something, Art and Marion withdrawal all their remaining savings and book a bridal suite at a Niagara Falls casino. They are telling others it is a second honeymoon. They actually plan to gamble their money into enough cash to save them.
This is a bittersweet novel. Art and Marion are also taking all sorts of emotional baggage with them from their almost thirty years of marriage. It soon becomes clear that Art is a hopeful optimist, sure that their marriage and life can be salvaged. Marion is more pessimistic, and trying to simply humor Art for one more weekend before she begins her single life. The desperation of their plan, combined with a thread of optimism, underpins their weekend.
Setting The Odds in Niagara Falls was really a brilliant move. The tourist trap feeling combined with the romance and grandeur of the falls plays off Art and Marion's personal emotional drama. Will this gamble save their marriage, their lives? What are their odds?
The title of the book, The Odds, is emphasized with each new chapter of the book giving the odds that pertains to some event in the chapter. For example, the opening is: "Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls: 1 in 95." Others include: "Odds of a married couple reaching their 25th anniversary: 1 in 6"; "Odds of seeing a shooting star: 1 in 5,800"; "Odds of a 53-year-old woman being a grandmother: 1 in 3."
While the novel is short and the setting and action are deceptively simple, The Odds is a complex character study. The novel works based on the strength of O'Nan's writing. This is an honest, intimate, emotional novel. These are real people with all the anxieties, desires, faults, and pressures that many people face. They have both made mistakes. Through O'Nan we are privy to all of Art and Marion's thoughts and emotions. O'Nan is a master at character studies. 
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best
The final week of their marriage, hounded by insolvency, indecision, and, stupidly, half secretly, in the never-distant past ruled by memory, infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler fled the country. North, to Canada. "Like the slaves," Marion told her sister Celia. They would spend their last days and nights as man and wife as they'd spent the first, nearly thirty years ago, in Niagara Falls, as if, across the border, by that fabled and overwrought cauldron of new beginnings, away from any domestic, everyday claims, they might find each other again. Or at least Art hoped so. Marion was just hoping to endure it with some grace and get back home so she could start dealing with the paperwork required to become, for the first time in her life, a single-filing taxpayer. opening
From the beginning Art had conceived of the trip as a secret mission, a fantastic last-ditch escape from the snares of their real life, and while Marion refused to believe in the possibility, as at first she refused to believe the severity of their situation, she also knew they'd run out of options. pg. 3
While Art saw the divorce as a legal formality, a convenient shelter for whatever assets they might have left, from the beginning she'd taken the idea seriously, weighing her options and responsibilities - plumbing, finally, her heart - trying, unsuccessfully, to keep the ghost of Wendy Daigle out of the equation. pg. 7
Sitting there with the bag as she flipped the pages, he allowed himself to think of all the problems it would have solved if the bus had rolled and he alone had been killed. How clean it would be. pg. 10
Her entire life had not been a ruin. There were seasons she'd keep, years with the children, days and hours with
Art and, yes, despite the miserable end, with Karen. pg. 13
Did he understand how hard it was to believe a word he said when he lied so easily? pg. 14
Equally insane was the notion that any young woman would be interested in a broke fifty-two-year-old with thinning hair, but that was never addressed.  No, the real answer, the real reason the question tortured him, was that without Marion he wouldn't know what to do or even who he was. He could send his laundry out, but he would belong to that legion of aging, unloved men buying frozen dinners and six-packs at the grocery store, or worse, working there, bagging their sad purchases and wishing them a good evening.  pg. 23
"Are you still going to have bad thoughts when we're divorced?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I thought it might work like bankruptcy, everything forgiven."
"Sorry, some debts you have to pay."
"It was worth a try," he said.
"Not really." pg. 29
That terrible summer she'd wished on a falling star for him to come back to her, and he had, though it hadn't made either of them happy.Maybe this wasn't any different, and yet she was ready, if he would come to her, unbidden, to try again. pg. 46

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