Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan

I stumbled on Stewart O’Nan with the intriguingly titled novel, Last Night at the Lobster. This story of ordinary working people and their struggles working minimum wage jobs entertained me all the way through. Emily Alone came next, and in May 2011, I wrote on my blog, “a quiet, earnest story of ordinary people going about their daily lives, trying to manage the vagaries of existence as senior citizens.” So, when his latest came out, I had high hopes for a three-peat. The Odds did not disappoint.

Art and Marion are nearing their 30th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, both have lost their jobs, and they teeter on the brink of financial ruin. Their marriage isn’t in great shape either. Their solution to these problems is wild. They liquidate all their savings, make a reservation at the bridal suite fanciest casino/hotel in Niagara Falls. Art has a plan to win a great pile of cash to pay off their debts and avoid a financial cliff of their own making.

Early on, fellow Pennsylvanian, O’Nan sums up Art’s and Marion’s characters in a neat little package. He writes, “the brittle, rigid Art … emerged more frequently since he’d been laid off, always lurking just beneath the cheerful veneer. His mother had been the same way, affecting a patrician calm, then breaking into self-righteous tirades when the smallest thing went wrong--tipped juice boxes or overcooked steaks. They shared a sense of entitlement and a selective paranoia, as if the world were conspiring against them. Marion was hurt and angry too, but knew the world wasn’t to blame. They’d had their share of good luck, more than most couples, especially after the mistakes they’d made. She didn’t hold hers above his or vice versa. Like the world, no one was perfect. … If Marion was disappointed in anyone it was herself. She’d promised not to give up on him, but [sometimes] she was convinced she’d be happier alone, and felt selfish” (81).

Relationships are complicated – this one more so that others, but Art and Marion are giving it one last chance with a pile of cash, an American Express Card, and fool-proof system to beat the roulette wheel.
Despite this plan, they are somewhat practical. Marion muses, “You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole—like the world, or the person you loved” (98).

This pleasant little novel of only 179 pages also has a streak of humor. Each chapter heading gives the odds for a variety of activities. For example, “Odds of a tourist visiting Niagara Falls: 1 in 195” (1); “Odds of a married couple making love on a given night: 1 in 5” (37); “Odds of a couple taking a second honeymoon to the same destination: 1 in 9” (57); “Odds of a jazz band playing 'My Funny Valentine' on Valentine’s Day: 1 in 1 (123); and “Odds of the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series: 1 in 25,000” (161).
However, the odds of enjoying Stewart O'Nan's fun novel – by my calculations – 1 in 1. 5 stars.

--Chiron, 4/10/13

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