My Thoughts on Stewart O'Nan, The Odds

This is my second Stewart O'Nan, although the both that I have read have been novellas.  I liked The Odds: A Love Story better than Last Night at Lobster.  I think this book made me realize that I could be a serious O'Nan fan.  It isn't flashy.  It is a terse, slight book that contains volumes about love and about humanity.

The book is told in alternating perspectives in the voices of Art and Marion Fowler, who are embarking on a "second honeymoon" to Niagra Falls on what we quickly learn is the eve of their divorce:

"They would spend their last days and nights as man and wife as they'd spent the first, nearly thirty years ago, in Niagra 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."

However, the divorce is motivated by the couple's financial hardship after the loss of Art's job, and so is the trip to Canada, where Art hopes to win big on his life savings before he loses it all in bankruptcy.  So, for Art the whole trip is a gamble.  He is betting on his ability to allude the authorities, to use a system derived from internet searching guaranteeing a win at the roulette wheel, and to win back his wife, who sees the divorce as a far more final move than he does.

The portrait of a marriage as it dissolves, with no violence and actually quite a bit of tenderness, is heartbreaking, but hopeful.  Although Art and Marion have grown apart, separated by life and by their mistakes, they still function as a pair, like parts of the same whole. O'Nan gives a snapshot of marriage as a living, breathing, and working entity, and I as a reader, couldn't help but root for the Fowlers and hope for their future.

Each chapter in The Odds, begins with a set of odds, from the very likely (Odds of a marriage proposal being accepted: 1 in 1.001), to the surprisingly likely (Odds of surviving going over the Falls in a barrel: 1 in 3), to the depressing (Odds of a U.S. citizen filing for bankruptcy: 1 in 17), to the nearly impossible (Odds of surviving going over the Falls without a barrel: 1 in 1, 500, 000).  O'Nan asks us, through this little story, to think about our own lives and our own odds.  Do we make our luck, or is it fate?  What do the odds mean translated into individual terms?

Highly recommended.

Title: The Odds:A Love Story
Author: Stewart O'Nan
Publisher: Viking
Date: 2012 (January 19th)
Genre: Fiction, Novella

192 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher, through Net Galley

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