Stewart O’Nan – “The Odds”

You have Niagara Falls so you have the “going to the brink” imagery.

You have the casinos so you have plenty of obvious and overt gambling imagery.

And you have the border and the whole notion of crossing borders, shifting identities.

And Art and Marion Fowler, who are very much on the brink with their own marriage and their own futures, are seeing the band Heart on Valentine’s Day.  Yes, Heart. On Valentine’s Day.

The whole set-up of The Odds: A Love Story might be too much for some writers, but Stewart O’Nan’s touch and his details give this weight and gravity that make the story ring true.

Art and Marion are taking their savings to a fancy casino and are, well, rolling the dice. They are doubling down on black and blackness and considering all their previous mistakes. They do the tourist thing by day and at night stand around the roulette wheel and hope for the best. It is “the final weekend of their marriage,” the opening line tells us, and they are “hounded by insolvency, indecision…”

On the first page we know Art hopes they can find each other again and we know Marion wants out. O’Nan cuts right to the chase: “They were middle-class, prey to the tyranny of appearances and what they could afford, or dare, which was part of the problem.”

Their risk-it-all strategy gives The Odds an uncomfortable tension—it’s hard to look away from what might be a train wreck or what might lead to smiles and champagne.  O’Nan writes so starkly and openly about this pair that we feel like invaders in their space. Their proposed fix carries high-risk and high-reward and it’s not implausible, yet we also wonder how a “win” could really fix the underlying problems between these two.

For me, it’s O’Nan’s sterling prose that pulls this along—both his eye for detail and his fresh imagery. “The hotel rose opposite Bridal Veil Falls, the sinuous aluminum façade meant to resemble the cataract, the casino at its base a muscular whirlpool flinging off huge fanciful water droplets outlined in aqua neon. The bus pulled up the circular drive and as a group they tramped through the spongy carpeted lobby, open to the casino floor, manic with the jangling of slot machines.”

There’s a relentless battle here between hope and desperation and throughout The Odds we wonder whether these two will drown or die in a perilous run over the falls or if they will find each other, somehow, in the thick waves of mist and uncertainty.  They bet on black. They double-down on black. It doesn’t matter. The odds are always the same.

One response to “Stewart O’Nan – “The Odds”

  1. Pingback: Stewart O’Nan – “West of Sunset” | Don't Need A Diagram

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