The Odds: A Love Story, by Stewart O’Nan
by Stewart O’Nan
The Odds is a real-life love story, definitely not one of the Harlequin variety, where boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and all is bliss. The Odds is the story of a couple who have been struggling for thirty years to make their marriage work. Just why they stuck together is clear at times, not so clear at others. The effect is like a zoom lens, with the image sharpening up at times when honing in on something good, then blurring again when confusion sets in as to why they’re together at all. In reality, it’s normal, everyday stuff that they argue about, that bothers them, that plagues them (i.e., finances, affairs, lose of employment, etc.) What will keep you reading is the uncertainty of their current situation—will they beat the odds in both the casinos and their marriage?
What galvanized me in this short gem of a novel was the blatant reality of it. I felt as if I were front and center at a Neil Simon play about characters as familiar to me as any of my relatives and friends. Everything about it rang true—from the dialogue to the details. If that doesn’t sound all that interesting, think again. It was eye-opening, to say the least.
Marion and Art Fowler are on the verge of bankruptcy, foreclosure and divorce. Art comes up with a plan to take the very last of their money (around $30,000) and bet it all on roulette. He read about a system to beat the odds, if you’re brave enough to risk thousands and let it ride. One last spin of the wheel will make or break you, and they both go on their second honeymoon knowing and accepting this—they’re either all in or all out. So they return to the scene of their first honeymoon to either restart their flailing marriage or accept that this will be their final weekend together. Marion’s convinced they’re history, but Art has high hopes. Quite honestly, I found myself wavering from side to side, able to understand and sympathize with both. Here’s Marion’s take on the situation after reading about a boy who went over the Falls and survived:
“She imagined the boy, Roger Woodward, struggling to swim against the current. 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 sanity, she’d stopped fighting. Now she was just floating, waiting to go over. What happened after that was beyond her control. Unlike Art, she didn’t expect to be rescued.”
Art, on the other hand was like a puppy dog, so eager to please, to make everything okay again—the way it was thirty years ago. And he really does believe in “the system,” that he has the power to put their marriage back together with several spins of the roulette wheel. So Marion accepts his lavish attention (i.e. a diamond ring, a rose, champagne, expensive meals, etc.), though begrudgingly, not wanting him to think there is a chance it will all come out okay. Here’s how she came to view Art that weekend:
“He lurked like a butler, attending her. His eagerness reminded her of the children on Mother’s Day, so pleased with their own offerings.”
The contrast between the two—one hopeful, one hopeless—makes for high drama and much pathos, as well as a laugh or two along the way. Guaranteed, anyone married for a significant amount of time will relate to numerous scenes; unless, of course, you do have that one-in-a-million Harlequin marriage.
I said it was short—and it is, at 192 pages—but it packs a wallop, and you’ll be thrilled about the short amount of time you have to invest in a story that will stay with you for much, much longer. The ending, too, is a memorable one, always a nice bonus, no matter how much time you invest.