The Odds

A Love Story

Stewart O'Nan - Author

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ISBN 9781101554357 | 192 pages | 19 Jan 2012 | Penguin | 18 - AND UP
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In the new novel from the author of Last Night at the Lobster, a middle-age couple goes all in for love at a Niagara Falls casino

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.

Odds of a U. S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls: 1 in 195

The final weekend of their marriage, hounded by insolvency, indecision, and, stupidly, half secretly, in the never- distant past ruled by memory, infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler fled the country. North, to Canada. “Like the slaves,” Marion told her sister Celia. They would spend their last days and nights as man and wife as they’d spent the first, nearly thirty years ago, in Niagara Falls, as if, across the border, by that fabled and overwrought cauldron of new beginnings, away from any domestic, everyday claims, they might find each other again. Or at least Art hoped so. Marion was just hoping to endure it with some grace and get

back home so she could start dealing with the paperwork required to become, for the first time in her life, a single-filing taxpayer.

They told their daughter Emma they were taking a second honeymoon.

“Plus they’re doing another open house here, so . . .” Marion, on the other line, qualified.

They weren’t good liars, they were just afraid of the truth and what it might say about them. They were middle- class, prey to the tyranny of appearances and what they could afford, or dare, which was part of their problem. They were too settled and practical for what they were doing, uncomfortable with desperate measures. They could barely discuss the plan between themselves, as if, exposed to light and air, it might evaporate.

With Jeremy, it was enough to say they wanted to see the new casino, a Frank Gehry knockoff featured on the covers of Sunday travel sections and in-flight magazines. He was impressed with the rate they’d gotten. Art had dug around online to find a bargain.

“Your father the high roller,” Marion joked.

The Valentine’s Getaway Special, it was called: $249, inclusive of meals and a stake of fifty Lucky Bucks toward table games.

They took the bus because it was part of the package, but now, burrowing through a dark wind tunnel of blowing snow somewhere on the outskirts of Buffalo, surrounded by much younger couples—including, frozen zoetropically in the light of oncoming cars, a fleshy pair in Harley gear necking directly across the aisle—they both wished they’d driven.

They’d already made their separate cases at home, so there was no sense going ever it again. Art, ever the math major, always bringing matters back to the stingy reality of numbers, had pointed out it would save them fifty dollars in gas, not to mention parking, which Marion thought absurd, and typical. They were so far beyond the stage where fifty dollars might help— like this ridiculous gamble, betting their marriage, essentially, on the spin of a wheel— yet he clung to his old a- penny- saved-is-a-penny-earned bookkeeping, forgetting the ledger he was tending was drenched in red. Taking the bus represented yet another loss of control, giving themselves up to the hand of fate, or at least asleep- deprived driver. The only reason she went along with it— besides not wanting to fight—was that she wouldn’t have to worry about Art tailgating people the whole way in this weather, though of course she didn’t say that.

The bus, additionally, was supposed to provide them with cover, as if in gray middle age they weren’t invisible enough. From the beginning Art had conceived of the trip as a secret mission, a fantastic last- ditch escape from the snares of their real life, and while Marion refused to believe in the possibility, as at first she’d refused to believe the severity of their situation, she also knew they’d run out of options. The house had been on the market over a year now without a nibble. They would lose it—had already lost it, honestly. The question was, how much would it cost them?

Everything, barring a miracle. Art had already crunched the numbers, and after a necessary period of denial, Marion had conceded them, which was why they were barreling north on I-90, Lake Erie a black void beyond the window.

Art just wanted to get there. The Indians gym bag on his lap with the leering, bucktoothed Chief Wahoo made him nervous, as if the banded packets of twenties fitted inside like bricks were stolen. He wouldn’t be able to relax until he’d locked them in the safe, along with the ring he’d managed to keep a secret from Marion. In love he wasn’t frugal, despite what she might say. In another mad surrender to extravagance, for seventy-five more dollars a night, he’d reserved one of the bridal suites on the top floor overlooking the Falls, and despite their guaranteed late arrival, he was afraid the front desk might have lost or ignored his request and given their room away.

Beside him, Marion lowered her mystery and massaged her neck as if she had a crick in it.

“I’m starving,” she said. “Aren’t you hungry?”

It was the only bus of the day, but since he’d made the arrangements he was responsible, just as it was his fault the traffic was bad and the weather ugly, and that night had fallen.

“I’m a little peckish,” he seconded. As in everything this weekend, he wanted them to be on the same side, the two of them against the world.

“What time is our reservation?”

“The earliest I could get was seven- thirty.”

“What time is it now?”

“Just past six. It’s only another twenty miles.”

“I should have grabbed a breakfast bar. I still need to iron my dress. I hope they have one.”

“They should.”

“Should be like a wood bee,” she said.

It was a private joke, a mocking appreciation of the slipperiness of even the simplest hope, a nonce catchphrase like so many others lifted from favorite movies or TV shows that served as a rote substitute for conversation and bound them like shut-in twins, each other’s best and, most often, only audience. While they’d performed this exchange hundreds of times over the years, en route to graduations, weddings and funerals, and her skepticism was an old routine, delivered lightly, almost without thought, tonight, because he was on a mission to recapture, by one dashing, reckless gesture everything they’d lost, he took it personally. He liked to believe that when he first met her, when she was completely foreign and even more inscrutable, a solemn blonde sociology major freshly graduated from Wooster with granny glasses and a tennis player’s shapely legs, a girlish love of James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, a cedar chest full of pastel sweaters and a shelf crowded with naked neon-haired troll dolls, she had believed in things— luck, goodness, the inexhaustible possibilities of life—and that her disappointment now was a judgment not of the world but of him and their life together. If the room didn’t have an iron, he would call down to the front desk and go get it himself if necessary. They might be broke come Monday morning, and filing for divorce, but he would never stop trying to provide for her happiness, as impossible as that was.

Haunting, funny, and gorgeously eloquent . . . O’Nan’s expertly drawn tension builds to a conclusion that’s as surprising and satisfying as an unexpected kiss. In the end, THE ODDS is a gorgeous fable, a stunning meditation, and a hope-filled Valentine about what is won in love, what falls away, and how truly, it is always, always worth the cost.” — The Boston Globe

Stewart O’Nan seems incapable of writing a false line. Whether describing the unimaginable or the mundane, his modest sentences crystallize the lives of ordinary people…. O’Nan is an author you learn to trust, no matter what he’s writing about…. A few hours with this witty, sad, surprisingly romantic novel might be a better investment for troubled couples than a month of marriage counseling…Odds of enjoying this novel: 1 in 1.”

Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“He brings lightness to every scene, while still making the characters tremendously real, recognizable yet fresh. He works in the micro — the novel slips in under 200 pages — writing close, with fine detail. There is a clarity to O'Nan's prose: It doesn't call attention to itself, doesn't flaunt dazzling sentences or stunning descriptions. This may undersell his work, which is delightful. There is something movie-like in it — not that this should be a movie, as his novel "Snow Angels" was — but it's movie-like in its easy immersion. Cracking open "The Odds" is like settling back to watch a film as the theater lights come down: It plays out, brightly, before your eyes.

Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

“O'Nan is a master of that ambiguity that can never be mistaken for confusion. In cold-as-glacier-melt prose, his quotidian characters grow indelible in LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER and EMILY, ALONE and now THE ODDS.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"THE ODDS is a slim volume, sparse in its language and as finely crafted as the tightest of short stories. Some use a barrage of details to make a point. O'Nan trains his eye on the one or two that, in their nakedness, reveal much. The reader cannot help but recognize the rhythms of [a] relationship, disturbed by the pressure imposed by external forces. O'Nan makes points, but never belabors them. The result is an experience that is colored as much by the reader's experience as by this fine writer's craft.”
The Denver Post

“O'Nan . . . captures the emotional machinery that binds and separates two people in love.”

The Minneapolis StarTribune

“THE ODDS  will strike more than a few chords for long-married baby boomers…who will appreciate its honest and raw depiction of what marriage can be like after many years…The novel is not without O’Nan’s trademark humor, subtly sprinkled throughout...THE ODDS is…delightful in its candor and moving in its perceptiveness.”

The Miami Herald

"This compact page-turner of a novel examines how much good luck a long-term marriage requires."


“Relentlessly honest, O’Nan never averts his eyes from the unpleasant eruptions of the body or soul, nor is he shy of giving affection, admiration, and tolerance their due . . . O’Nan’s settings—the bus from Ohio, the bridal suite in the hotel, the layers of the casino, the freezing Falls, the Heart concert—are rendered with such vivid intelligence that they have the verve of the exotic.”

The Atlantic

THE ODDS…offers a compelling window into the way that the 2008 economic collapse has affected the lives of average Americans.”

The New Yorker Book Bench

“[THE ODDS] keeps you on the edge of your seat through the 179 pages of this brisk, pungent journey into a marriage afflicted by the 21st century.”

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette

“The odds of the Fowlers reconciling should their marriage fail may be slim (1 in 20,480 that a divorced couple will remarry), but the odds that O'Nan will write winsome fiction — be it long or short-form — are forever high.”

St. Louis PostDispatch

Praise for THE ODDS

"Stewart O'Nan once drove me too fast through Manhattan at 3am. This books feels just like that. Dangerous, domestic, sad, thrilling, slyly hilarious, and painful. It's a love song, yes, but a love song to a dying marriage. Read it, please."
Sherman Alexie, National Book Awardwinning author of WAR DANCES

“Stewart O'Nan is a novelist of the everyday . . . THE ODDS . . . concerns people you might run into at Target . . . O'Nan packs his granular observations about domestic life into a smart, fast-paced romantic-comedy format . . . Call it Bonnie and Clyde meets the old Albert Brooks film Lost in America. . . . What's portrayed especially well, even in the farcical circumstances, is the everyday negotiations, internal and interpersonal, governing the spouses' lives: their calculations of what to say when, and how…[it’s] a funny book, too . . . O'Nan even grants his characters (and readers) that the cheap magic of a tourist trap like Niagara Falls can be magic, nonetheless.”

Pittsburgh City Paper

“THE ODDS is a realistic fairy tale about the gravitational pull of an enduring relationship. In deft, knowing strokes, Stewart O'Nan exposes all the tenderness and tension, the compromises and evasions that lie at the heart of any long-term marriage…Anyone who's experienced those emotions and doesn't confess to seeing at least a cloudy reflection in the mirror O'Nan has so lovingly crafted isn't telling the truth.”

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