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Friday, April 13, 2012

The Odds

The Odds
Stewart O’Nan
Viking, 2012

Art and Marion are spending the last weekend of their marriage at Niagara Falls. They are celebrating 30 years together through many ups and downs, but this weekend is also a chance to decide if they are going to stay together or get a divorce. Both have been unfaithful, although they are both aware of only one. Their children are grown, they are both unemployed, and their house is going into foreclosure, so they have decided to go scrape together all the available cash they have and go all in on a bet at the casino. As they go through the motions for their marriage, they each present their points of view towards themselves and each other, their long standing resentments, joys, dreams and hopes for a different future present themselves in turn. Although it is obvious that Marion is less likely to want to reconcile than Art, she cannot help but appreciate the long history they have shared. At the same time, she longs for a new beginning and cannot decide if it should include Art or not.

This spare but engaging little novel packs a lot into few words. Art and Marion are like many married couples who are experiencing roadblocks in their relationship. It is sad to watch their relationship dissolve, but there is still hope they will stay together because they do genuinely care for each other. The “all-in” bet at the casino seems like an obvious metaphor for their marriage, and perhaps a foolish risk to take, but Art is determined to try it. I felt bad for Art, who wants so much to stay with his wife that he tries too hard to make her happy. As he tries to recreate their honeymoon, which was also spent in Niagara Falls, Marion is mostly irritated by the sightseeing and crowds, and even gets sick after eating shellfish. Poor Art, and poor Marion, too, who have had so much bad luck the past few years that their life together has come to this point. And yet, the reader is left with the hope they will figure out a future and be happy together in some way.

Other novels by this author:
Snow Angels (1994)
Speed Queen (1997)
A World Away (1998)
Everyday People (2001)
Wish You Were Here (2002)
The Night Country (2003)
The Good Wife (2005)
Last Night at the Lobster (2007)
Songs for the Missing (2008)
Emily Alone (2011)

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Truest Pleasure by Robert Morgan (1995)
Pentecostal worship ideals attract Ginny while her husband Tom disapproves, but they keep their marriage intact in the early-20th-century Blue Ridge mountains through a series of difficulties.

Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee (2005) Dependent on others after losing his leg in an accident, sixty-year-old Paul Rayment finds himself falling in love with a down-to-earth Croatian nurse and encouraged by a mysterious writer to take an activist role in his own life.

After This by Alice McDermott (2006)
A portrait of an American family during the middle decades of the twentieth century evokes the social, spiritual, and political turmoil of the era as seen through the experiences of a middle-class couple and their children.

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