Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: "The Odds" by Stewart O' Nan

Continuing the loose theme he began with Last Night at the Lobster ( a short novel set loosely around a holiday), The Odds proves that Stewart O’Nan is a master at making very compelling stories out of the most basic of human interaction. With Last Night at the Lobster, one of my favorite books from last year, he uses the Christmas setting to describe the end of a kind of family, that one being the staff at a New England Red Lobster. Here, he uses the setting of Valentine’s Day to view a marriage on the brink of collapse. In the two books, nothing really major happens, but it is some of the most interesting fiction I have read in such a long time. The way he describes these basic events, such as food poisoning and a rock concert, is really something to behold. He imbibes it with a kind of grand poetry you’d expect from a much larger novel. The great service he provides in doing this is that his characters are ones that are painfully close to people we know in real life, and most of the time, they are ourselves. They have dreams that have gone unfulfilled and they are trying their best to make things work with what they are given, whether that’s a simple restaurant that has become yours or a marriage that has not lived up to the expectations of both parties. O’Nan provides grandiose ideas to these very human, relatable emotions. The couple at the center of this short 179 page novel are Art and Marion Fowler, married for 30 years and on their way to Niagara Falls when the bus they are riding on is involved in an accident. It is a perfect metaphor for the current state of their marriage. Not only are they broke, with Art having recently lost his job, each has slowly drifted into a kind of mutual hatred of one another, with Art’s infidelity years before still fresh in both their minds, and Marion’s hidden affair with a woman filling her with guilt and disappointment. Their plan is to have one last vacation together, and in doing so, they have devised a betting system for the local casinos that will either leave each one with a comfortable financial situation or make the hole that they have found themselves in that much deeper. This is a quick read, not only for its short length but for how suspenseful it is, with each event, like the aforementioned food poisoning which afflicts Marion and the weird specter of a newly engaged couple, acting as harbingers of doom and creating a palpable sense of dread as the more backstory is revealed, and the true connection between Art and Marion is both threatened and strengthened as the book moves toward a rather beautiful conclusion. This is a different kind of love story, one that is more realistic in both its emotional brutality and breathtaking tenderness, and one that is as rewarding as it is endlessly fascinating. 
Rating: 5/5

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