I know I should be posting something cute for Valentine's Day, but this book is a valentine of sorts...and if you read it while eating chocolate then by golly you've celebrated.
The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O'Nan, 192 pages. Available in hardcover, Kindle, Nook, and ebook from Viking.
Nobody writes the ordinaryness of life better than Stewart O'Nan. The Fowlers are a regular couple - married for 30 years, facing divorce and bankruptcy, they are headed to Niagara Falls (where they honeymooned) to risk their remaining savings at the roulette wheel. The reader is treated to their thoughts and reflections as what is unspoken between them blankets every interaction. I couldn't help but recall Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, another small book that packs a big punch, although about newlyweds. All those expectations and things unsaid are interesting to note both at the beginning and end of a marriage, as both stories so elegantly attest.
Even in this slim volume, O'Nan's attention to detail is staggering, ie. including bathroom habits, which I could have done without, but such is the intimacy between characters and reader. His prose remains crisp even though it is packed with insight and particulars. The backdrop of Niagara Falls is so fitting with it's cheesy romantic vibe in contrast with the cynicism of Marion and powerful but controlled chaos of the Falls - compared to the calculated recklessness of Art. It is a modern fable of unfinished people - more beautiful still, it is contained in a tightly crafted tiny package. It required so little commitment to read yet has proven its worth in reflection many times over. I will say if you did not enjoy his book Last Night at the Lobster, this one may not be for you. His style varies so much between novels (he writes non-fiction too- see below), that is possible to pick and choose, but I like it all.
Here is his website: http://stewart-onan.com
And just for fun, I have a six degrees of separation story with Mr. O'Nan (well, technically three degrees). Several years ago he interviewed my husband's grandmother for his book The Circus Fire about the horrific Hartford Fire of 1945. He visited Grandma Jennie in her assisted living home to talk about her memories of that time as she volunteered with the Red Cross and I have no doubt he was surprised by her candor and wit. Her memory, even in her 90s, was incredibly sharp, she loved to share her knowledge and experience with others, with a particular passion for politics. And in one of her letters she told us of his visit. She is no longer living, but I give her credit for introducing me to his work and can't help but think of her when I see one of his books.
PS - Have a Happy Valentine's Day! Any special plans? None here, but I'm feeling pretty festive and putting whipped cream in my coffee. :)