Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review: The Odds by Stewart O'Nan

The Odds

Author: Stewart O'Nan
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Pages: 192 (Trade Paper Edition)

       Author Stewart O'Nan continues to publish short, compulsively readable novels about everyday people.  The Odds continues the tradition of The Last Night at the Lobster and Emily Alone, setting ordinary people in recognizable but difficult situations.   The Odds is reminiscent of the best of Anne Tyler in this regard.

    This is the story of Art and Marion Fowler, a couple whose relationship is as empty as their bank accounts.  Simultaneously on the verge of bankruptcy and divorce, the couple travel to Niagara Falls for Valentine's Day.  They have an improbable plan for solving their financial woes.

     Told in the third person, the author succeeds in authentically depicting every emotional reaction in this tempestuous excursion.  O'Nan also is spectacular in his choice of setting and his use of detail.  Art and Marion's trip to the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum on the very day when their plan will succeed or fail is priceless.  The juxtaposition of the absurd with the very real is humorous and melancholy at the same time:

     "Little was original, let alone authentic.  In smudged plexiglas boxes sat priceless artifacts of the ancient world, shiny with varnish.  Most of the exhibits were simply reproductions of old wire service photos.  Several times, waiting for him to read the notes on the wall, she had to cover a yawn."

     Stewart O'Nan's novels strike a chord with me.  It could be because his characters are so real, believable and easy to commiserate with.  It could be because the situations are recognizable.  His eye for detail makes the otherwise rather mundane stories come to life.  I think, though, that the reason that I like his books so much is because they are so well written.  His economy of words, precision of pacing and flawed but likable characters are a joy.  The Odds did not disappoint in any of these areas.  

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