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The Odds, Stewart O’Nan

2012/02/11

I picked this one up after catching an NPR review; this is the first of O’Nan’s works that I have read, but based on this reading, it will not be the last. In this short novel (under 200 pages), O’Nan follows a middle-aged husband and wife on their final vacation as a married couple. Marion is reluctantly going on this trip with Art as a final concession before they split and file for bankruptcy; their house is about to be foreclosed upon — a house that Art knew they could not afford when they bought it, but went along with to please Marion. The couple’s trip to Niagara Falls via bus runs in to a few hitches, paralleling their life story together, which is told through reflective flashbacks from their differing perspectives. Allusions are made to extra-marital affairs, although this is not made explicit. Their vacation takes place over Valentine’s weekend, prompting memories of the early days of their relationships.

Each chapter is headed with a statistic, such as the odds of getting sick on vacation, of a U.S. citizen filing for bankruptcy, of being served breakfast in bed on Valentine’s Day, or some other number roughly associated with the chapter’s content. The novel is very readable, and paints a realistic picture of a couple in today’s American society — dealing with joblessness, financial troubles, and trying to keep at all together. A charming novel without being overly cloying or dramatic.

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