Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: The Odds

Summary: Stewart O'Nan's thirteenth novel is another wildly original, bittersweet gem like his celebrated Last Night at the Lobster. Valentine's weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara Falls, desperate to recoup their losses. Jobless, with their home approaching foreclosure and their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion liquidate their savings account and book a bridal suite at the Falls' ritziest casino for a second honeymoon. While they sightsee like tourists during the day, at night they risk it all at the roulette wheel to fix their finances-and save their marriage. A tender yet honest exploration of faith, forgiveness and last chances, The Odds is a reminder that love, like life, is always a gamble. -- Viking

A few years ago, I read and reviewed SONGS OF THE MISSING by Stewart O'Nan. It was the first novel that I had read by this author and I enjoyed it a great deal. I promised myself that I'd read more of this author's works, but for some reason, I didn't. Chalk it up to the saying, "Too many books, too little time." However, when I saw his latest novel THE ODDS: A LOVE STORY, I decided that it was time to give him another try. And boy am I glad he did.

THE ODDS tells the story of a couple whose marriage is on the brink. They are unemployed and broke and decide to take their meager savings and go to Niagara Falls on Valentine's Day weekend. They stay in the bridal suite, drink champagne, and sightsee by day; however, at night, they risk their remaining money on the roulette will. It's quickly apparent that this couple is desperate and more is at risk than just their savings.

I enjoyed THE ODDS a great deal and at times, I was blown away by Mr. O'Nan's writing. His prose is wonderful as are his storytelling abilities, but the real beauty of this novel was in Mr. O'Nan's insights. He not only managed to develop very authentic characters and fully develop their relationship (in a pretty short novel by the way), but he truly captured the essence of a marriage on the brink. Furthermore, I felt as if through Art and Marion's relationship, he showed so many of the universal themes of marriage. While I really have very little in common with Art or Marion, there were references to their everyday life and relationship that reminded me of my marriage or my parents' or even my grandparents' marriage.

Mr. O'Nan chose to include with each chapter with a cute idea that I eventually began to really appreciate. He previewed each chapter by giving a teaser that gave the reader the odds of something happening. For example, the first chapter begins with "Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls: 1 in 195." I thought the statistics were kind of interesting, but It began to take on a bigger meaning for me. The theme of "odds" was obviously a prevalent one throughout this book, but as Art and Marion's story evolved, I really began to see how "odds" play a huge deal in our lives. Almost everything we do, from love to marriage to careers to parenting, is a risk; and sometimes we will win, but sometimes we will lose.

I was really impressed with how THE ODDS made me feel when I was reading it. For such a small novel, it really packed a powerful punch. This novel gave me so much detail into Art's and Marion's troubled marriage that I almost felt like a voyeur while reading it. It was an incredibly honest look at a couple whose lives were rapidly unraveling, and my heart broke for their pain. I loved how this novel explored their desperation and hopelessness, and I actually came to feel close to them. And there was no doubt that I was holding out hope for a miracle.

Needless to say, I think THE ODDS would make an excellent discussion book. There is a reading guide available which has ten terrific questions about the novel. Some of the themes you might want to explore include (obviously) love and marriage, but you also can explore the finer details of Art and Marion's relationship -- both the past and the present. In addition you might want to discuss desperation, adultery and secrets.

At its heart, THE ODDS was a love story and one that will remain in my thoughts for a very long time. With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, I think THE ODDS pays an honest tribute to the institution of marriage -- both the good times and the bad; and I highly recommend this novel!

Thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I've never read O'Nan's work but it sounds like I need to. This sounds like a book I'd love.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

His writing is very intense! I may try this one though!

Serena said...

I haven't read this author before, but I did check out this book at the library recently and almost took it home...Maybe next time I'm there.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Oh, I want to read this one SO BAD! I was lukewarm on Emily, Alone only because I was living in a swirl of chaos at the time and the story was gentle. But he is an excellent writer and want to try him again...

Jenners said...

I very much want to read this. Every review I've seen has been very positive. I think I need to read this and the rest of his books.

Gayle Weiswasser said...

I've read a few by O'Nan - need to add this one to the list. Thanks the review!