Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan


"You couldn't relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole--like the world, or the person you loved."

Art and Marion Fowler, on the eve their thirtieth wedding anniversary, are out of options. Their lives are crumbling around them; bankruptcy and divorce seem inevitable. In a desperate last-ditch effort, they cash everything in, stuff the money into a duffel, and board a bus to Niagara Falls for a Valentine's Day weekend get-away. Can they win big at the casino, pay off their debts, and somehow salvage the marriage?

Stewart O'Nan is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and his latest novel, The Odds, reminds me why: He understands people. He knows how we think, what makes us tick, and why we do what we do. Art and Marion are an unremarkable, but not especially likable, couple. As O'Nan deftly weaves their story, the reader comes to understand how they arrived at the breaking point. The weekend unfolds and their drama plays out against the backdrop of Niagara Falls - the cheesy tourist traps, rip-off elevator rides, the Maid of the Mist, a Heart concert, and finally the hotel casino. In spite of myself, I gradually began rooting for them to beat the odds.

Although this is not a cheery novel, there are a few things I especially enjoyed:

  • Heart concert scene - I laughed out loud (in recognition) at the middle-aged rockers
  • Niagara Falls - I've been there a few times and O'Nan nails the atmosphere
  • Chapter headings citing various odds - Odds of vomiting on vacation: 1 in 6, Odds of a U.S. citizen filing for bankruptcy: 1 in 17, Odds of winning an olympic gold medal: 1 in 4,500,000

After reading three O'Nan novels in quick succession last fall, I couldn't resist pre-ordering The Odds, something I've never done before. His latest effort certainly did not disappoint, but I enjoyed both Emily, Alone and Last Night at the Lobster more.

My rating:



40 comments:

  1. I really need to read a book by this author. I've seen so many favorable reviews of his books. I think I have at least one of them on my Kindle.

    I've not ever been to Niagra Falls and this makes the surrounding area sound like Vegas! LOL

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    1. Kay - And I haven't been to Las Vegas, but have the idea Niagara Falls is more blue collar and less over-the-top than LV. Hope you give O'Nan a try one of these days.

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  2. The chapter headings sound really clever, especially if they tie in with the body of the novel thematically.

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    1. Nymeth - They do! That's one of the reasons I enjoyed them so much... very clever.

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  3. All wrapped up in Dickens but still making note of these authors that intrigue me... one day:)

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    1. Stacy - I think Dickens will keep you busy for quite some time ;-)

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  4. I think he is good, but definitely not cheery. It's hard to volunteer to read his work! I didn't know that about the chapter headings - very interesting!

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    1. Rhapsodyinbooks - No, this book isn't anywhere close to cheery. I did enjoy the chapter headings though.

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  5. You had already completely convinced me to read O'Nan awhile ago. It just hasn't quite happened yet!

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    1. Reviewsbylola - When you do find time to read O'Nan, this may not be the best place to sart.

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  6. I haven't read this author yet, but I'm so intrigued by the sound of this one, that I'm adding it to my list.

    Thanks!

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    1. Laurel-Rain Snow - I see similarities between O'Nan and Richard Yates (another favorite). They both know and understand people so well and write about everyday life, but O'Nan isn't quite so unrelentingly depressing.

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  7. I think you hit the nail on the head... he really knows what people think. I enjoyed The Odds much more than I expected to and of course, I fell in love with his writing when I read Wish You Were Here. I did buy a copy of Emily Alone and can't wait to read it this weekend which is Spring Break for my kids. Of course, I also planned an informal read-along for We Need to Talk about Kevin so that may harsh my mellow a bit.

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    1. Ti - Wish You Were Here is the book that made me fall in love with his writing, too. Can't wait to hear what you think of Emily, Alone. It was one of my favorites last year, but I think it might not appeal much to anyone under 45. I started We Need to Talk About Kevin years ago on audio, but found the narrator so annoying I put it aside. Have meant to pick up a print copy ever since. The movie preview looks very disturbing!

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  8. He is really good at bringing a person to life. You will probably be one of the throngs of people who throw tomatoes at me when I post my review though, because I just could not like this book. His characterizations were spectacular, but I could not stand Art or Marion, and the whole interaction made me ill at ease. Love story, really? I couldn't make myself pick up the book, and it took me nearly a week to read it, even though it was very short! I feel like I am hating on Santa Claus or something.

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    1. Sandy - I can't wait to read your review! And I promise not to throw tomatoes. Art and Marion were both totally unlikable and I almost felt slimy after reading some of those scenes... not exactly my idea of a love story, either. Hating on Santa? LOL!

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  9. I do like novels that take something highly personal -- like a bankruptcy, for example -- and illustrate the global implications of the event. Great review!

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    1. Col - Thanks. I bet you would appreciate Last Night at the Lobster.

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  10. Another book by O'Nan that sounds so good. I cannot wait to read some of his books. You have completely hooked me on Stewart O'Nan and I've yet to read anything by him! An author who understands people is one who should definitely be read by all readers!

    Fantastic review, JoAnn, thank you!

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    1. Amy - I hope you get to read O'Nan soon, but would not recommend starting with The Odds.

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  11. Enjoyed this novella as well.

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    1. Lee - Have you read other O'Nan novels, or was this your first?

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  12. So many people have been raving about this book and others of the author. I'm going to have to read this one soon. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. Darlene - You've got to give O'Nan's books a try. He's really a great author.

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  13. I just brought this one home. It will be my first by this author.

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    1. Nise' - I hope you enjoy it. It my not be my favorite O'Nan, but it does give you a good idea of his insight/perception and his writing.

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  14. Great rating even though you enjoyed his other works more...that just means they will be stellar reads for me!! Yay!! I loved your review and the way you highlighted certain moments from the book. i so got the middle-age rocker thing. I took my husband to see Def Leppard a few years back and never felt so old in my life!! Hahahahahaha!!!

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    1. Staci - There wasn't a lot to laugh about in this book, but the concert scene sure brought a smile to my face. Nothing like a concert to make you fell ancient ;-)

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  15. I've read about 5 of his books (including this one) and really like his writing. His audios are always pretty good as well. Glad u liked this one.

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    1. Diane - You're one ahead of me! Glad to hear his books are good on audio - maybe I'll try that route next time.

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  16. I adore the quote you shared from the book. It's just perfect!

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    1. Diane - I loved that quote, too, and it sums up the book perfectly!

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  17. Yes! That's why I love this author too - he understands people and seems to get everything right. It's taking me a while to read Wish You Were Here, but I'll add The Odds to my list. Stewart O'Nan makes me want to read slowly and savor the story. He really makes me think too.

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  18. Margot - O'Nan has that effect on me, too - I want to savor and stop to think. Will probably turn to The Good Wife next.

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  19. "He understands people. He knows how we think, what makes us tick, and why we do what we do."

    Exactly what makes me want to read a book! Great review, JoAnn!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa! O'Nan is an author I doubt I'll tire of any time soon.

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  20. O'Nan has become a book blogger favorite. I must jump on the bandwagon.

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    1. Stacybuckeye - O'Nan has enjoyed a lot of attention from book bloggers lately. I'd recommend starting with Last Night at the Lobster. It's short and really shows what a great writer he is.

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  21. I just finished this novel and was looking for someone else who had read it as well when I stumbled upon your blog. I couldn't agree with you more! I absolutely loved his use of "odds" at the beginning of each chapter. And though I have never been to Niagara Falls, this novel made me want to go. What do you recommend as my next read of his?


    Quirky Book Nerd
    www.iamliteraryaddicted.blogspot.com

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    1. QuirkyBookNerd - Welcome to the world of Stewart O'Nan! This is his fourth book I've read. If you click on the label for his name in the right column, it will list my review posts. Emily, Alone is my favorite so far, but it's a sequel to Wish You Were Here (great summer read - 3 generations in a lake house) and may not have as much appeal for anyone under 40. I also loved Last Night At The Lobster. Hope to work my way through more of his backlist myself.

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