The Odds, by Stewart O’Nan, is the charming story of Art and Marion Fowler, on the verge of a divorce, who wager everything on a second honeymoon to Niagara Falls. With their life savings in cash in a gym bag, they take a bus to the iconic honeymoon destination with a winner-take-all determination. Facing bankruptcy after the loss of both of their jobs and divorce after both have affairs, the marriage’s financial and emotional balance is near zero.
O’Nan’s gift is for making the fairly ordinary seem ordinary. There are no hyperbolic declarations of love or hysteria over the loss of their jobs and slow decline into financial ruin. His characters demonstrate how people react to those things in the real world, which makes them much more endearing and understandable. Art and Marion have phrases and words they use like all married couples, in their own language that would mean nothing to others. For example, when Art says, “They should,” she replies, “Should be like a wood bee.” The vacation plods along with negotiations over what they should see and do (he wants to see Ripley’s Museum, she prefers to check Facebook), culminating in a trip to the casino that could either ruin them or give them another chance.
O’Nan cleverly titles each chapter with the odds of various related topics such as, “Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls: 1 in 195,” and “Odds of a married couple reaching their 25th anniversary: 1 in 6” and “Odds of getting sick on vacation: 1 in 9.” This is a nifty way to provide the reader with clues to each chapter. In the chapter “Odds of surviving going over the Falls without a barrel: 1 in 1,500,000,” Marion ruminates about the young boy who went over the falls and survived, “She thought she knew the dread and panic of being swept inexorably toward the edge, except that sometime in the past few months, whether to preserve her strength or her sanity, she’d stopped fighting. Now she was just floating, waiting to go over.”
O’Nan is a gifted storyteller, and this quick and delightful read is satisfying and uplifting. The Odds was published in 2012 by Viking.
If you enjoy O’Nan’s novels, please see the Cats and a Book Review of Emily, Alone. A book club guide, along with recipes and menus for your meeting, can be found at the Cats and a Book Book Club Guide.