The Odds by Stuart O’Nan
Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin
Art and Marion’s almost thirty year marriage is on the brink of collapse. Neither one is currently employed, their home is on the verge of foreclosure and their savings account has dwindled down to almost nothing. In a last-ditch effort to save their marriage and their financial lives, they take what little they have left in savings and head to a luxury suite at a casino in Niagara Falls in the hopes that they can win the money they need to get their life together back on track. In the process, Art and Marion must decide whether their marriage is something worth gambling on or if it, too, should be looked at as a total loss.
There’s no question that Stuart O’Nan is a truly talented writer. He took these pretty awful characters and their sad story and turned them into people I actually cared about over the course of this slim novel. Both Art and Marion have been unfaithful to one another, they both have said horrible things to the other, and there is absolutely no trust left in this marriage. And yet, somehow, I wanted them to figure things out. I wanted them to find a way to make things work between the two of them, I wanted Niagara Falls to help them fall back in love with one another, and I wanted this gamble to turn into a win. It’s strange for me that I’m saying that because when I began reading The Odds, I couldn’t have cared less about Art and Marion. But as the book went on, I found myself caring about them more and more, and eventually I got to a place where I was just hoping they would find a way to forgive each other and work things out.
I have to be honest, though, and tell you that Art and Marion are NOT likable characters. They treat each other with supreme unkindness, they have both cheated on the other, and in the beginning of the novel they have all but given up on one another. This is not a story about two people who fall back in love just because of a romantic second honeymoon. Rather, it’s a quiet story about two people who have to really work to understand the other. It’s a story about two people who have hurt one another so badly there is little hope for redemption. In any other author’s hands, I would have loathed these two people and thrown the book at the wall after the first fifty pages. But in O’Nan’s capable hands, they became people I wanted to get to know, characters I came to appreciate as the novel progressed.
I realize this book won’t be for everyone but I really came to enjoy it. By the end of the novel, I was really rooting for these two people and was so hopeful that things would turn out for them. If you like literary novels with characters that grow on you over time, pick up The Odds.