After all that political reading, I needed some great fiction to stir my soul. So I turned to the talented Stewart O’Nan for a story that I bet would do just that. I was right.
The last book I read by O’Nan was “Last Night at the Lobster,” a beautiful little book about a man who is working the last shift at a Red Lobster that is slated to close. The character is elaborate but ordinary—a portrait of a middle-class, working American suffering hardships that befall our fellow citizens each year.
So I was glad to see another novel by O’Nan, this one called “The Odds.” (I’ts accurately subtitled, “A Love Story.”) The characters in this book are a middle-aged married couple named Art and Marion. The couple is about to get divorced, so they go to Niagara Falls, the location of their honeymoon, to gamble away their last dollars. It’s not a remarkable plot, and that’s the beauty of it. Like “Last Night at The Lobster,” the triumph of this novel is that the author develops perfect renderings of two ordinary and middle-class Americans feeling their way through the end of a troubled marriage.
O’Nan writes about marriage as if he’s lived through a few. Both Art and Marion are battle-scarred by their marriage—mistrust over known and unknown affairs, boredom, and long-held grudges persist. They are broke and both are bringing entirely different expectations to this trip. Much is left unsaid between Art and Marion—there are few really dramatic conversations that occur between the two. Instead, we hear the banal and the typical. Art relies on old jokes that probably once inspired laughter and Marion focuses on things like whether Art needs to have his shirt ironed. When Art and Marion show up at their hotel, we see that they choose the same side of the bed that they do at home. Art struggles to reset the marriage after his dalliance, and Marion, hurt, sets her attention to Facebook. If you are married—even blissfully married—you will still recognize pieces of this relationship.
The story is too delightful to give any more details. This is the book I’ll recommend for months and it may end up being my favorite of the year. O’Nan subtly reminds us that marriage isn’t easy. (Perhaps the title is an allusion to the fact that these days, the odds are that a marriage won’t survive.) But he also reminds us that it can be as rewarding as it is difficult. I don’t care if you’ve been married forever or if you just exchanged the rings, you should read this book. It’s lovely.
Thanks for reading.