Jill's Reviews > The Odds: A Love Story

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan
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's review
Nov 28, 2011

really liked it
Read from January 12 to 23, 2012


Stewart O’Nan is “the man” with his wildly imaginative, poignantly rendered portrayals and he never fails to astound me. In Emily, Alone, he took an ordinary old woman – the kind of person you pass by without a glance nearly every day – and revealed the extraordinary life that lies right beneath the surface. Now again, he lasers in on an ordinary couple, heavily in debt – Art and Marion Fowler – who retreat to Niagara Fall as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage and save themselves from smashing over the rocks into insolvency.

Married 30 years, the couple arrives at the Niagara Falls bridal suite with different expectations. Art is a romantic at heart; Marion has “a genius for self-pity that defeated even his” and views the trip as a sort of farewell gift to him He is betting the proverbial ranch that he can beat the odds in the roulette parlor and “win back the girl” with an opulent second engagement win. Both are high-stake bets.

As in his previous books, Mr. O’Nan is not about flaunting dazzling prose or displaying sleights of hand that will astound and amaze his readers. Rather, he slowly and painstakingly peels the layers back on the marriage that has lost its bearings, both financially and emotionally. As the two navigate the tacky Niagara tourist attractions and the kitschy roulette tables, they begin to join together “on a mission to recapture, by one dashing reckless gesture, everything they’d lost.” Slowly but surely, the reader begins to lose objectivity and root for them to win although it’s anything but a sure bet that they will.

The situations that contribute to their estrangement – Art’s long-past affair with a younger woman Marion’s indiscretions with a female colleague from work – can feel a little forced, particularly Marion’s. I never quite believed it. Mr. O’Nan does far better with the couple’s “ballet of accommodation”, which rings far truer.

Still, this is a novel that once again establishes Stewart O’Nan as an oracle for the so-called ordinary person, a novel that holds out the hope of exhilarating possibilities when we think all is lost. The headlines that accompany each chapter (“Odds of a couple making love on Valentine’s Day: 1 in 1.4., Odds of vomiting on vacation: 1 in 6), add a wryness and humor. It’s a gamble that succeeds.

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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Amy (new)

Amy I love your reviews.

Jill Thanks, Bookczuk. What a wonderful comment!

message 3: by Amy (new)

Amy I have just a few people's reviews I *always* read, as opposed to - you, someone who is so quirky she usually makes me laugh, and a couple of other good friends (some of whom I actually know in person!)

Jill Wow. You've made my morning. Thanks so much!

message 5: by Jay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jay Absolutely perfect, Jill.

Jill Thanks Jay...that's so kind!

message 7: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Beautifully evoked and understood (can I say the latter if I haven't read the book?) It feels beautifully understood.

Jill Thanks, Caroline. I am a big fan of Stewart O'Nan and how he portrays the "ordinary person."

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