The Odds: A Love Story

By Stewart O’Nan

(Penguin, $25.95, 192 pages

Who is this author?

Connecticut’s literary community lost an important member when Stewart O’Nan moved from Avon back to his hometown of Pittsburgh. O’Nan, known for novels that explore extraordinary emotions arising from ordinary life, was a repeat winner of the Connecticut Book Award for fiction, not quite what you might expect from a guy who earned a degree in aerospace engineering. In 1996, he was named one of America’s 20 top young novelists by Granta, the literary magazine.

He set several of his novels in Connecticut: “Last Night at the Lobster” takes place in a chain restaurant in New Britain and “The Night Country” is set in the Farmington Valley. His first non-fiction book, “The Circus Fire,” (2000), chronicles the tragic 1944 circus conflagration in Hartford, and it drew on more than 500 responses from local people who answered his ad in The Courant seeking survivors to interview.

His other non-fiction book, “Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season,” was written with Stephen King.

Here are some things O’Nan revealed in a Barnes & Noble interview:

“The library is still my favorite place in the world.”

“I’d rather be reading than doing anything else, including writing.”

“The Odds” is O’Nan’s 13th novel.

What is this book about?

Suppose you were in a long, frayed-at-the-edges marriage and facing the likelihood of going bankrupt and getting divorced. Where would you go for one last, hail-Mary attempt at getting things back together? Counseling? Church? Your CPA’s office?

How about Niagara Falls?

That is where Art and Marion Fowler head, hoping literally to gamble their way back to solvency as well as betting  they can re-ignite their relationship over a Valentine’s Day weekend at the place where they spent their honeymoon.

Art has devised a system he is sure will allow them to win big at the casino. As the weekend progresses, the book takes the reader back in time and returns to the present, fleshing out the Fowlers’ marriage and the things they have done to strain it to the breaking point. Can they recoup what they once had, or are they fated to crash, like a barrel going over the Falls? O’Nan’s novel will keep you wondering until the very end.

Why you’ll like it:

I won’t tell you if Art and Marion manage to achieve their miracles, but I will say that O’Nan is peerless at creating real-life dialogue and situations that capture his readers. His previous novels, such as “The Good Wife” (2005), which is NOT the basis for the TV series, but instead ABOUT a woman’s life as she faithfully waits for her husband to serve a long prison sentence; or “The Night Country,” which zeroes in on the poignancy and perplexities of teenagers and their families struggling with the aftermath of a gruesome accident, were masterpieces of that kind. O’Nan really knows how to create regular people dealing with the unpredictability of life, leading to books that you cannot, and do not want to, put down.

What others are saying:

“At his best, O’Nan nails the persistence of betrayal long after wrongs have actually been committed; their desperation has become as routine as ordering dinner,” says Publishers Weekly.

“There is a clarity to O’Nan’s prose: It doesn’t call attention to itself, doesn’t flaunt dazzling sentences or stunning descriptions. This may undersell his work, which is delightful. There is something movie-like in it — not that this should be a movie, as his novel “Snow Angels” was — but it’s movie-like in its easy immersion. Cracking open “The Odds” is like settling back to watch a film as the theater lights come down: It plays out, brightly, before your eyes,” says Carolyn Kellogg in the Los Angeles Times.

“O’Nan, writing about love in a time of recession and hope as eternal as falling water, celebrates in The Odds “the high not of money but of sheer possibility” — a wager few can resist,” says Heller McAlpin for NPR Books.

Says Ron Charles in The Washington Post: “But it’s O’Nan’s attention to the murmurs of exasperation and smothered ardor that will unsettle you. I read “The Odds” over my 27th anniversary, and I defy any long-married husband to make it through these pages without feeling the bracing wind of exposure. Our neediness, our brittle impatience, our loony sense that sexual satisfaction redeems the universe: It’s all laid out here in prose that’s deceptively modest. A few hours with this witty, sad, surprisingly romantic novel might be a better investment for troubled couples than a month of marriage counseling.”

When is it available?

It’s a sure bet that the Hartford Public Library has added “The Odds” to its collection.

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