THE ODDS by Stewart O’Nan

Stewart O’Nan is a master at taking everyday life, with its myriad daily victories and losses, and exploring the human drama and meaning behind them. Like he did in Last Night at the Lobster (reviewed here), in The Odds, he takes a look at an everyday marriage of two middle-aged people over the course of two days, and charts the ups and downs of this Cleveland couple on the verge of splitting up.

Art and Marion have come upon hard times. Their mortgage is too much for them to cover; they have both lost their jobs to the recession. There is infidelity lingering in the history of their relationship, and they have decided, most likely, to separate, just as they must also sell their house and face their financial ruin. They opt to take a last-ditch nostalgia trip to Niagara Falls, both to revisit the scene of their much happier honeymoon, and to bet what little remains of their savings at the casino in a Hail Mary attempt to recoup losses. Desperation abounds.

O’Nan takes his readers through the three days of Art and Marion’s weekend, from the disastrous bus to New York to the stomach flu that each of them suffers. There are a million heartbreaks, disappointments, and glimmers of hope between them over the course of the weekend, and O’Nan’s careful observations and eye for detail in The Odds bring the reader along for all of them. Art is eternally hopeful, indulging Marion throughout the weekend (and even presenting her with a ring he can’t afford), while Marion is tired and jaded, defensive and impatient. Should she stay with him, or should she jettison the whole disaster and try being on her own? She wonders, “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.”

The Odds is a pretty depressing book, like Last Night at the Lobster, but O’Nan clearly wants these people to be happy, so the reader does too. You find yourself rooting for the marriage, and for the roulette spin, because if they don’t win, then what chance do the rest of us have?

Another great book from Stewart O’Nan (and a short read, too). Here’s another review of The Odds from Ti at Book Chatter.


  • July 26, 2012 - 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I really want to try this one!

    • gayle
      July 29, 2012 - 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Have you read other O’Nan? I think you’d like this one.

  • July 26, 2012 - 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I really did not like either of them but I was more forgiving of Art, probably because of his optimism. I could totally relate to Marion though and how annoyed she was with every little thing. The last ditch attempt to save the marriage was bittersweet because I wasn’t sure in the beginning if they should be together at all.

    I watched that interview series on TV with Amanda de Cadenet awhile back and in one of them, she interviewed Jane Fonda and she said something that made total sense. She said that the man you marry, the man you choose to raise children with is not necessarily the man you want to spend the rest of your life with after the kids have flown the coop. It’s sort of depressing but at the same time, makes sense. I saw this interview after reading The Odds but I thought about Art and Marion when I heard that.

    • gayle
      July 29, 2012 - 11:35 pm | Permalink

      Agreed – they were both frustrating characters. Marion was so crabby all the time and didn’t seem to want to acknowledge anything that Art did. Interesting about the Jane Fonda interview.

  • July 26, 2012 - 6:46 pm | Permalink

    I really liked this one as well.

  • July 26, 2012 - 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Oh my Gayle, this book seems so totally depressing but I am looking forward to hear what you think of Evel Knievel Days!

    • gayle
      July 29, 2012 - 11:33 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t started Evel Knievel yet – other books keep bumping it out of the next slot. Have you read it?

  • July 30, 2012 - 8:35 am | Permalink

    I really liked this one. It was my first O’Nan, and I’ve got a few more of his out from the library to read ‘sometime.’

  • Tuvana
    July 30, 2012 - 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I am about halfway through this. It is really depressing but I can’t stop reading it. I am particularly impressed with the contrast between the majestic, larger-than-life setting (Niagara Falls) and the painful play-by-play of a failing marriage between two imperfect people. Thanks for recommending – I am enjoying it despite the demoralizing topic.

  • Ruth
    August 5, 2012 - 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I thought this book was dull and predictable.

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