Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: "The Odds: A Love Story" by Stewart O'Nan

Niagara Falls is the often-clichéd spot where couples begin and celebrate their lives together, as a large number of marriage proposals and weddings happen there each year despite all of the tourist trappings. Stewart O'Nan's new novel, The Odds looks at the other side of the coin—a couple staring down the end of their lives together.

Art and Marion Fowler have been married for nearly 30 not-entirely-happy years. With their marriage on the brink of collapse and their finances in ruin, they flee their suburban Ohio home for one last journey back to Niagara Falls, where they celebrated their honeymoon. They've cashed in their savings in the hopes a big win will stem the foreclosure of their house, but both arrive at the Falls with different goals—Art is hoping that maxing out his credit cards by booking a bridal suite and planning romantic events will make Marion fall in love with him again, while Marion is ready to move on with her life no matter what happens with their money. This is the story of a couple gambling their future on one last weekend together, and both want the win to go their way.

Stewart O'Nan is definitely one of my favorite writers. He has a way with language, plot, and character development that always pulls you into his books, and The Odds was no exception. At under 200 pages, I read the book in a little more than a day, and was drawn to finding out just what was going to happen to the Fowlers. They are weary people; each has fought the same fights and heard the same responses from the other countless times. Yet it's probably that weariness that didn't endear this book to me as much as I hoped it would. Yes, I was invested in knowing what happened to Art and Marion (and although the future is alluded to, you're left to your own devices to figure out what's next for the couple), but more because I love reading O'Nan's writing, not because I had any real love for the characters. Much as you feel after visiting a real touristy destination, I felt glad to have made the journey, but didn't feel moved by the experience. I would encourage those of you who have never read any of O'Nan's books to pick up Snow Angels, Last Night at the Lobster, Wish You Were Here, Emily Alone or any one of his earlier books. He's a terrific writer; I just didn't feel this book was as good as some of his previous ones.

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