Friday, March 23, 2012

Odds are You'll Love The Odds

Oh Stewart O'Nan, readers are going to tire of hearing me sing your praises once again. How do you do it? So consistently excellent! Each novel so different from the one before. The Odds is the perfect antidote for the book group attendees who thought Emily Alone was too depressing.

This new book is either the result of a quintessential editor or O'Nan is the embodiment of an editor's dream. Tight, focused, without a spare word anywhere, The Odds comes in at under 200 words of sheer perfection.

Over one Valentine's Day weekend the thirty year marriage of Art and Marion Fowler is put to the test and I honestly didn't know how it would fare until the final two sentences. A timely portrait of the casualties of the economic downturn, Marion lost her job first, Art fell a year later. Their kids are grown, educated, and on their own so normally they would be able to struggle along except that their home, an over financed boondoggle whose purchase Art still chafes at, is financed to the max.

Art is a money man and he's used the leisure time afforded by his unemployment to study ways to make quick money on a gambling scheme. In a last ditch effort to rescue their home from foreclosure and their marriage from the deeply held resentments for past transgressions, Art asks Marion to return to the scene of their honeymoon, Niagara Falls, the Canadian side that is, where a pricey new casino beckons.

O'Nan is a master at characterization. There isn't one false note as first Art, then Marion, tell the story of their lives through their individual musings over the course of the weekend. Where Marion festers in cold, pent up anger, and not a little guilt, Art exudes over the top but unwarranted optimism.

 They are so real, so human, evoke such compassion, that they become every couple working through a long-term relationship, fraught with pressures at every turn. One understands that the odds of one in two marriages surviving this long is a miracle in itself! This is, quite simply, a beautiful, heart breaking novel.

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