The Odds – Stewart O’Nan (2012)

Having really enjoyed some of Stewart O’Nan’s other works (Last Night at the Lobster Café and Emily, Alone), I rather knew what to expect from him: present day situations with lots of focus on relationships. (In fact, this rather reminded me of Tropper’s book, “This is Where I leave You”, which I reviewed earlier.) However, each of these books  stand well as individual reads.

This one differed in that instead of focusing on the death of a family member, it was more focused on a couple  (mostly the husband in this case) who are trying to resuscitate their marriage by taking a Valentine’s Day package trip to Niagra Falls. This trip, which offers $50 in gambling money and is upgraded with the honeymoon suite at the hotel, is rather fraught with anxiety for both Art, the husband, and Marion, the wife; each desperately wants to please the other one, but for different reasons. Marion cannot forget an ill-planned affair that her husband had twenty years ago, and nor can she forget a short love affair she herself had with another woman. Art, on other hand, is wracked with guilt over his behavior (although it was ages ago), and both are now jobless, with their home in foreclosure.

Art looks at this trip to Niagra Falls as the be-all and end-all of their marriage and life together. If they can only re-ignite their love for each other (and also double their winnings at the roulette table), then perhaps all their problems will be solved.

This is an uncomfortable but extremely honest look at long-term relationships (like a marriage). It clearly shows the rifts that can grow when problems are not addressed, and both of them are somewhat ambivalent about their impending divorce, but for different reasons. Art really wants to save his marriage out of love for Marion; Marion has her foot halfway out the door, but is not sure that she is ready to go the full way just yet. And it is this push-and-pull tension that sucks you into the book and keeps you reading until the end.

O’Nan does a very good job (as usual) of getting to the heart of relationships in a realistic way. It’s perfectly true that your affection for your partner in a long-term relationship will wax and wane, and there are times when you may be out of sync with each other.  It also demonstrates how a long-term couple know each other well enough to closely work as team partners on an agreed goal (in this case, the strategy for winning at roulette) even if perhaps they are unsure of their individual end goals.

Another strength that O’Nan has is that he does a great job of describing the slightly yucky and rather expensive holiday package that the couple have bought: the tourist schlock that they are surrounded with, and the effort required to “enjoy” all the attractions on a cold, windy and wet weekend when unspoken pressures are the order of the day.

This sounds like a rather depressing read, but it’s not for the most part: it’s a realistic look at two people who have loved most of their lives together and yet still are separated by a gulf. There is also, clearly, a metaphor for life and love that it is all a gamble anyway. 🙂

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