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.