The Odds by Stewart O’Nan (Viking, 2012, 179pp.)
“At this point he was the exact opposite of a gambler, interested only in what gave him the best chance to win. He’d already taken the greatest risk in his life and lost. The best he could hope for was to break even.”
The Canadian side of Niagara Falls serves as the backdrop for a struggling middle-aged couple on their second honeymoon. Returning to the same hotel where they first spent their days of post-wedding bliss, life for Art and Marion has changed drastically since then. Everyday interactions are now colored by hurt and distrust, brought on by the looming shadow of Art’s past infidelity, a sin committed over 20 years ago—not to mention they’re broke and unemployed. The hotel they stay in sits on top of a casino, and it’s here where the soon-to-be-bankrupt couple decide to gamble away their savings. Each chapter is cleverly headed by the odds of certain events happening, such as: a spouse committing infidelity, an American filing for bankruptcy, and my personal favorite: “Odds of surviving going over the Falls without a barrel,” (it’s 1 in 1,500,000, in case you were interested).
Actually, the chapter headings were about all I liked about the story. I had two main problems with it. First, Art and Marion’s relationship. Obviously it’s a complicated one, but to me, they didn’t really seem like they were headed to divorce. They just seemed like an ordinary older married couple that squabbles and then settles in for a nice evening of TV together. Then there’s the author’s rendering of Niagara Falls, the casino, the hotel, and its surrounding attractions. It’s all so immensely detailed, that it actually killed the story for me. On the one hand, it feels like you’ve visited Niagara Falls yourself. On the other, it’s more than you ever needed to know. It’s kind of like when you make a pilgrimage to an oft-visited historical site/natural wonder-turned-tourist-trap. After the initial sense of awe wears off and you’ve absorbed your surroundings, you start to get a little bored. In The Odds, O’Nan manages to turn the characters’ potentially interesting plight into something tediously dull. By the time the couple reaches the end of their journey, I’d stopped caring. So, by way of Stewart O’Nan, I’d have to say:
Odds that you will consider never visiting Niagara Falls after reading this book because O’Nan touches on absolutely everything you can see and do there? 1 in 3.
Odds that you will spend the last half of the book skimming the pages? About 1 in 2.
Odds of this story making me care? 1 in 1,000,000.
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