The Odds: A Love Story

The Odds: A Love Story

3.3 13
by Stewart O'Nan
     
 

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In the new novel from the author of Last Night at the Lobster, a middle-age couple goes all in for love at a Niagara Falls casino

Stewart O'Nan's thirteenth novel is another wildly original, bittersweet gem like his celebrated Last Night at the Lobster. Valentine's weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara

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Overview

In the new novel from the author of Last Night at the Lobster, a middle-age couple goes all in for love at a Niagara Falls casino

Stewart O'Nan's thirteenth novel is another wildly original, bittersweet gem like his celebrated Last Night at the Lobster. Valentine's weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara Falls, desperate to recoup their losses. Jobless, with their home approaching foreclosure and their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion liquidate their savings account and book a bridal suite at the Falls' ritziest casino for a second honeymoon. While they sightsee like tourists during the day, at night they risk it all at the roulette wheel to fix their finances-and save their marriage. A tender yet honest exploration of faith, forgiveness and last chances, The Odds is a reminder that love, like life, is always a gamble.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
Stewart O'Nan seems incapable of writing a false line…The Odds is another in his growing body of distinctly trim books…Once again, he's given us a story line that seems daringly sparse. Even the opening punches…immediately give way to the small, plain movements of a middle-aged couple in a hotel room. This willfully anti-dramatic structure succeeds only because O'Nan writes well enough to render the choreography of domestic life as captivating as the drama that usually keeps our attention in fiction…A few hours with this witty, sad, surprisingly romantic novel might be a better investment for troubled couples than a month of marriage counseling.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Marion and Art, on the brink of divorce and bankruptcy, head back to Niagara Falls, where they spent their honeymoon decades earlier. This compact novel unfolds over Valentine’s Day weekend, culminating with the couple’s determination to gamble what money they have left at the roulette wheel in the hotel casino. Taking the metaphor for all its worth and then some, the two risk “throwing away their savings chasing the high not of money but of sheer possibility.” At his best, O’Nan (Emily, Alone) nails the persistence of betrayal long after wrongs have actually been committed; their desperation has become as routine as ordering dinner. The kitsch of the falls is effectively rendered, though the plot eventually devolves toward cliché, perhaps inevitably in the trappings of the setting. Rooting for the couple becomes more of a challenge once the language begins to feel as predictable as the Maid of the Mist ride. Learning that “he was more comfortable with the rose as the badge of their love, being both natural and ephemeral, than the ring, which seemed binding and permanent” doesn’t so much explain Marion as reveal a dependency on symbolism that at times interrupts an otherwise tender tale of imperfection and commitment. (Jan.)
Carolyn Kellogg
“He brings lightness to every scene, while still making the characters tremendously real, recognizable yet fresh. He works in the micro — the novel slips in under 200 pages — writing close, with fine detail. 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.
Sherman Alexie
Praise for THE ODDS

"Stewart O'Nan once drove me too fast through Manhattan at 3am. This books feels just like that. Dangerous, domestic, sad, thrilling, slyly hilarious, and painful. It's a love song, yes, but a love song to a dying marriage. Read it, please."

More
"This compact page-turner of a novel examines how much good luck a long-term marriage requires."
Tom Perrotta
"THE ODDS is a remarkable portrait of a marriage stressed to the breaking point, a husband and wife united and divided by bad luck and their own thorny history. This slender, moving book confirms O'Nan's status as one of the best writers of his generation, a novelist who can illuminate the drama and complexity of everyday life with compassion, wry humor, and unflinching honesty."
The Boston Globe
Haunting, funny, and gorgeously eloquent . . . O’Nan’s expertly drawn tension builds to a conclusion that’s as surprising and satisfying as an unexpected kiss. In the end, THE ODDS is a gorgeous fable, a stunning meditation, and a hope-filled Valentine about what is won in love, what falls away, and how truly, it is always, always worth the cost.”
The Seattle Times
O'Nan really shines…For virtually the entire book, O'Nan is in firm but understated control of his material. And the novel's conclusion — when Art and Marion, all dressed up, bet everything they've got — is thrilling.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“O'Nan is a master of that ambiguity that can never be mistaken for confusion. In cold-as-glacier-melt prose, his quotidian characters grow indelible in LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER and EMILY, ALONE and now THE ODDS.

The Denver Post
"THE ODDS is a slim volume, sparse in its language and as finely crafted as the tightest of short stories. Some use a barrage of details to make a point. O'Nan trains his eye on the one or two that, in their nakedness, reveal much. The reader cannot help but recognize the rhythms of [a] relationship, disturbed by the pressure imposed by external forces. O'Nan makes points, but never belabors them. The result is an experience that is colored as much by the reader's experience as by this fine writer's craft.”
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“O'Nan . . . captures the emotional machinery that binds and separates two people in love.”

The Miami Herald
“THE ODDS  will strike more than a few chords for long-married baby boomers…who will appreciate its honest and raw depiction of what marriage can be like after many years…The novel is not without O’Nan’s trademark humor, subtly sprinkled throughout...THE ODDS is…delightful in its candor and moving in its perceptiveness.”

The Atlantic
“Relentlessly honest, O’Nan never averts his eyes from the unpleasant eruptions of the body or soul, nor is he shy of giving affection, admiration, and tolerance their due . . . O’Nan’s settings—the bus from Ohio, the bridal suite in the hotel, the layers of the casino, the freezing Falls, the Heart concert—are rendered with such vivid intelligence that they have the verve of the exotic.”

The New Yorker Book Bench
THE ODDS…offers a compelling window into the way that the 2008 economic collapse has affected the lives of average Americans.”

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette
“[THE ODDS] keeps you on the edge of your seat through the 179 pages of this brisk, pungent journey into a marriage afflicted by the 21st century.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“The odds of the Fowlers reconciling should their marriage fail may be slim (1 in 20,480 that a divorced couple will remarry), but the odds that O'Nan will write winsome fiction — be it long or short-form — are forever high.”
Shelf Awareness
“THE ODDS is a realistic fairy tale about the gravitational pull of an enduring relationship. In deft, knowing strokes, Stewart O'Nan exposes all the tenderness and tension, the compromises and evasions that lie at the heart of any long-term marriage…Anyone who's experienced those emotions and doesn't confess to seeing at least a cloudy reflection in the mirror O'Nan has so lovingly crafted isn't telling the truth.”

Pittsburgh City Paper
“Stewart O'Nan is a novelist of the everyday . . . THE ODDS . . . concerns people you might run into at Target . . . O'Nan packs his granular observations about domestic life into a smart, fast-paced romantic-comedy format . . . Call it Bonnie and Clyde meets the old Albert Brooks film Lost in America. . . . What's portrayed especially well, even in the farcical circumstances, is the everyday negotiations, internal and interpersonal, governing the spouses' lives: their calculations of what to say when, and how…[it’s] a funny book, too . . . O'Nan even grants his characters (and readers) that the cheap magic of a tourist trap like Niagara Falls can be magic, nonetheless.”

From the Publisher
Haunting, funny, and gorgeously eloquent . . . O’Nan’s expertly drawn tension builds to a conclusion that’s as surprising and satisfying as an unexpected kiss. In the end, THE ODDS is a gorgeous fable, a stunning meditation, and a hope-filled Valentine about what is won in love, what falls away, and how truly, it is always, always worth the cost.” — The Boston Globe

O'Nan really shines…For virtually the entire book, O'Nan is in firm but understated control of his material. And the novel's conclusion — when Art and Marion, all dressed up, bet everything they've got — is thrilling.” — The Seattle Times

Stewart O’Nan seems incapable of writing a false line. Whether describing the unimaginable or the mundane, his modest sentences crystallize the lives of ordinary people…. O’Nan is an author you learn to trust, no matter what he’s writing about…. A few hours with this witty, sad, surprisingly romantic novel might be a better investment for troubled couples than a month of marriage counseling…Odds of enjoying this novel: 1 in 1.”Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“He brings lightness to every scene, while still making the characters tremendously real, recognizable yet fresh. He works in the micro — the novel slips in under 200 pages — writing close, with fine detail. 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.

Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

“O'Nan is a master of that ambiguity that can never be mistaken for confusion. In cold-as-glacier-melt prose, his quotidian characters grow indelible in LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER and EMILY, ALONE and now THE ODDS.

— The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"THE ODDS is a slim volume, sparse in its language and as finely crafted as the tightest of short stories. Some use a barrage of details to make a point. O'Nan trains his eye on the one or two that, in their nakedness, reveal much. The reader cannot help but recognize the rhythms of [a] relationship, disturbed by the pressure imposed by external forces. O'Nan makes points, but never belabors them. The result is an experience that is colored as much by the reader's experience as by this fine writer's craft.”
— The Denver Post

“O'Nan . . . captures the emotional machinery that binds and separates two people in love.” — The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“THE ODDS  will strike more than a few chords for long-married baby boomers…who will appreciate its honest and raw depiction of what marriage can be like after many years…The novel is not without O’Nan’s trademark humor, subtly sprinkled throughout...THE ODDS is…delightful in its candor and moving in its perceptiveness.”

The Miami Herald

"This compact page-turner of a novel examines how much good luck a long-term marriage requires." — More

“Relentlessly honest, O’Nan never averts his eyes from the unpleasant eruptions of the body or soul, nor is he shy of giving affection, admiration, and tolerance their due . . . O’Nan’s settings—the bus from Ohio, the bridal suite in the hotel, the layers of the casino, the freezing Falls, the Heart concert—are rendered with such vivid intelligence that they have the verve of the exotic.” — The Atlantic

THE ODDS…offers a compelling window into the way that the 2008 economic collapse has affected the lives of average Americans.”

The New Yorker Book Bench

“[THE ODDS] keeps you on the edge of your seat through the 179 pages of this brisk, pungent journey into a marriage afflicted by the 21st century.”

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette

“The odds of the Fowlers reconciling should their marriage fail may be slim (1 in 20,480 that a divorced couple will remarry), but the odds that O'Nan will write winsome fiction — be it long or short-form — are forever high.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"THE ODDS is a remarkable portrait of a marriage stressed to the breaking point, a husband and wife united and divided by bad luck and their own thorny history. This slender, moving book confirms O'Nan's status as one of the best writers of his generation, a novelist who can illuminate the drama and complexity of everyday life with compassion, wry humor, and unflinching honesty."

Tom Perrotta, New York Times bestselling author of THE LEFTOVERS

"A Valentine to marriage as it is actually lived in troubled times."
Kirkus

Praise for THE ODDS

"Stewart O'Nan once drove me too fast through Manhattan at 3am. This books feels just like that. Dangerous, domestic, sad, thrilling, slyly hilarious, and painful. It's a love song, yes, but a love song to a dying marriage. Read it, please."
Sherman Alexie, National Book Award-winning author of WAR DANCES

“Stewart O'Nan is a novelist of the everyday . . . THE ODDS . . . concerns people you might run into at Target . . . O'Nan packs his granular observations about domestic life into a smart, fast-paced romantic-comedy format . . . Call it Bonnie and Clyde meets the old Albert Brooks film Lost in America. . . . What's portrayed especially well, even in the farcical circumstances, is the everyday negotiations, internal and interpersonal, governing the spouses' lives: their calculations of what to say when, and how…[it’s] a funny book, too . . . O'Nan even grants his characters (and readers) that the cheap magic of a tourist trap like Niagara Falls can be magic, nonetheless.” — Pittsburgh City Paper

“THE ODDS is a realistic fairy tale about the gravitational pull of an enduring relationship. In deft, knowing strokes, Stewart O'Nan exposes all the tenderness and tension, the compromises and evasions that lie at the heart of any long-term marriage…Anyone who's experienced those emotions and doesn't confess to seeing at least a cloudy reflection in the mirror O'Nan has so lovingly crafted isn't telling the truth.”

Shelf Awareness

Library Journal
Their 30-year marriage stressed to the breaking point by financial troubles and infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler take one last trip together, to Niagara Falls, the site of their honeymoon, to make a desperate gamble with their remaining money and perhaps save their marriage. In this spare and engaging novel, O'Nan (Snow Angels) deftly interweaves the perspectives and memories of husband and wife, drawing a believable portrait of a long marriage, with its private jokes and rituals intermingling with half-buried resentments and miscommunications. Some incidents, particularly Marion's brief affair with a woman, could have been more fleshed out to give readers a better handle on the characters and what has kept them together. VERDICT Readers of contemporary literary fiction should enjoy the subtle dry humor and a story that gains momentum and pitches toward a satisfying, if somewhat ambiguous happy ending. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.]—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
Kirkus Reviews
An emotional richness permeates this short novel about a couple on the verge of ending their marriage while pondering whether they can salvage it. In recent years, O'Nan (Emily, Alone, 2011, etc.) has emerged as an accomplished chronicler of the bittersweet mundane, the everyday stories of characters who are no better or worse than their readers, but simply human, suffering through lost jobs, disintegrating families, dashed dreams, while showing a resilience in the appreciation of whatever blessings their lives afford them. Marking their 30th wedding anniversary, Art and Marion prepare for their impending divorce by taking one last trip together, a re-creation of their honeymoon at Niagara Falls. It's a splurge they can no longer afford, as they've both lost their jobs and they're about to lose their house, but Art hopes that going for broke at the casino with what little they have saved can reverse their fortunes. And though they've both had affairs that neither have been able to forget and at least one has found it hard to forgive, they still love each other. Or are comfortable with each other. Or at least used to each other. She recognizes that she has "succumbed to the inertia of middle age" while he worries that "without Marion he wouldn't know what to do or even who he was." So they spend their weekend drinking and gambling, grumbling about the tourist attractions, attending a Heart concert with a bunch of other middle-aged fans (a hilarious set piece), stumbling toward making love, complaining about uncomfortable shoes and going to the bathroom (a lot, for such a compact narrative). Each chapter title gives the odds on something to do with the novel ("Odds of a married couple making love on a given night: 1 in 5," "Odds of Heart playing ‘Crazy on You' in concert: 1 in 1"). Given the novel's subtitle, A Love Story, the odds of it not ending tragically are pretty good. A Valentine to marriage as it is actually lived in troubled times.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101554357
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/19/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
192
Sales rank:
245,975
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Praise for The Odds by Stewart O’Nan

“Haunting, funny, and gorgeously eloquent . . . O’Nan’s expertly drawn tension builds to a conclusion that’s as surprising and satisfying as an unexpected kiss. In the end, The Odds is a gorgeous fable, a stunning meditation, and a hope-filled Valentine about what is won in love, what falls away, and how truly, it is always, always worth the cost.”

The Boston Globe

“Stewart O’Nan seems incapable of writing a false line. Whether describing the unimaginable or the mundane, his modest sentences crystallize the lives of ordinary people. . . . O’Nan is an author you learn to trust, no matter what he’s writing about. . . . A few hours with this witty, sad, surprisingly romantic novel might be a better investment for troubled couples than a month of marriage counseling. . . . Odds of enjoying this novel: 1 in 1.”

—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“What O’Nan has done perhaps better than anybody else the past ten years is deliver us the complexity, heartbreak, and human drama of everyday people living everyday lives. . . . Art and Marion Fowler are nothing if not ordinary people whose lives are disturbed and disrupted by external forces—both economic and social—imposed on them by the larger culture. The result is an intimate and deeply moving portrait of the high-stakes game that we call marriage, one in which the reader is bound, almost obligated, to recognize in some measure, with crystal clarity, their own marriage.”

—Jonathan Evison, Salon.com

“[O’Nan] brings lightness to every scene, while still making the characters tremendously real, recognizable yet fresh. He works in the micro—the novel slips in under two hundred pages—writing close, with fine detail. There is a clarity to O’Nan’s prose: It doesn’t call attention to itself, doesn’t flaunt dazzling sentences or stunning descriptions. . . . 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.”

—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

“Art and Marion have come to see themselves as losers. But with flashes of gentle husband-and-wife humor, O’Nan has created far more than a marital train wreck. . . . [He] is never condescending, ever sympathetic to his main characters. . . . It’s a heartless reader who doesn’t end up rooting for them, despite the odds.”

USA Today

“Relentlessly honest, O’Nan never averts his eyes from the unpleasant eruptions of the body or soul, nor is he shy of giving affection, admiration, and tolerance their due. . . . O’Nan’s settings—the bus from Ohio, the bridal suite in the hotel, the layers of the casino, the freezing falls, the Heart concert—are rendered with such vivid intelligence that they have the verve of the exotic.”

The Atlantic

“Powerful . . . O’Nan is an unfailingly smart and affecting novelist, but never more so, I think, than when he writes about the economic struggles of ordinary folks. . . . [Niagara Falls] is a perfect setting to dramatize the ultimate middle-class nightmare: the fear of falling.”

—Maureen Corrigan, National Public Radio

“This compact page-turner of a novel examines how much good luck a long-term marriage requires, and it dares to suggest that if Art risks everything, he just might win back all he ever really wanted: Marion’s trust and love.”

—Pam Houston, More

“O’Nan is a master of that ambiguity that can never be mistaken for confusion. In cold-as-glacier-melt prose, his quotidian characters grow indelible in Last Night at the Lobster and Emily, Alone, and now The Odds.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Odds is a slim volume, sparse in its language and as finely crafted as the tightest of short stories. Some use a barrage of details to make a point. O’Nan trains his eye on the one or two that, in their nakedness, reveal much. The reader cannot help but recognize the rhythms of [a] relationship, disturbed by the pressure imposed by external forces. O’Nan makes points, but never belabors them. The result is an experience that is colored as much by the reader’s experience as by this fine writer’s craft.”

The Denver Post

“[O’Nan] deftly captures Art and Marion’s genuine (if mixed) emotions. These heartfelt portraits contrast sharply with those of their tacky surroundings. . . . There are also cannily observed scenes of the casual affection and familiarity in long-term marriages, as well as unexpected surprises.”

The Seattle Times

“O’Nan . . . captures the emotional machinery that binds and separates two people in love.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Delightful in its candor and moving in its perceptiveness . . . The Odds will strike more than a few chords for long-married baby boomers . . . who will appreciate its honest and raw depiction of what marriage can be like after many years. . . . The novel is not without O’Nan’s trademark humor, subtly sprinkled throughout.”

The Miami Herald

The Odds . . . offers a compelling window into the way that the 2008 economic collapse has affected the lives of average Americans.”

The New Yorker Book Bench

“[The Odds] keeps you on the edge of your seat through the 179 pages of this brisk, pungent journey into a marriage afflicted by the twenty-first century.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“The odds of the Fowlers reconciling should their marriage fail may be slim (1 in 20,480 that a divorced couple will remarry), but the odds that O’Nan will write winsome fiction—be it long or short-form—are forever high.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Odds is a remarkable portrait of a marriage stressed to the breaking point, a husband and wife united and divided by bad luck and their own thorny history. This slender, moving book confirms O’Nan’s status as one of the best writers of his generation, a novelist who can illuminate the drama and complexity of everyday life with compassion, wry humor, and unflinching honesty.”

—Tom Perrotta, New York Times bestselling author of The Leftovers

“Stewart O’Nan once drove me too fast through Manhattan at 3 A.M. This book feels just like that. Dangerous, domestic, sad, thrilling, slyly hilarious, and painful. It’s a love song, yes, but a love song to a dying marriage. Read it, please.”

—Sherman Alexie, National Book Award–winning author of War Dances

“Stewart O’Nan is a novelist of the everyday. . . . The Odds . . . concerns people you might run into at Target. . . . O’Nan packs his granular observations about domestic life into a smart, fast-paced romantic-comedy format. . . . Call it Bonnie and Clyde meets the old Albert Brooks’ film Lost in America. . . . What’s portrayed especially well, even in the farcical circumstances, is the everyday negotiations, internal and interpersonal, governing the spouses’ lives: their calculations of what to say when, and how. . . . [It’s] a funny book, too. . . . O’Nan even grants his characters (and readers) that the cheap magic of a tourist trap like Niagara Falls can be magic, nonetheless.”

Pittsburgh City Paper

The Odds is a realistic fairy tale about the gravitational pull of an enduring relationship. In deft, knowing strokes, Stewart O’Nan exposes all the tenderness and tension, the compromises and evasions that lie at the heart of any long-term marriage. . . . Anyone who’s experienced those emotions and doesn’t confess to seeing at least a cloudy reflection in the mirror O’Nan has so lovingly crafted isn’t telling the truth.”

—Shelf Awareness

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stewart O’Nan is the author of fourteen novels, including The Odds; Emily, Alone; and Last Night at the Lobster, as well as several works of nonfiction, including, with Stephen King, the bestselling Faithful. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his family.

ALSO BY STEWART O’NAN

FICTION
Emily, Alone
Songs for the Missing
Last Night at the Lobster
The Good Wife
The Night Country
Wish You Were Here
Everyday People
A Prayer for the Dying
A World Away
The Speed Queen
The Names of the Dead
Snow Angels
In the Walled City

NONFICTION
Faithful (with Stephen King)
The Circus Fire
The Vietnam Reader (editor)
On Writers and Writing , by John Gardner (editor)

SCREENPLAY
Poe

The wheel of fortune goes spinning round
Will the arrow point my way?
Will this be the day?
O wheel of fortune don’t pass me by
Let me know the magic of a kiss and a sigh
While the wheel is spinning, spinning, spinning
I’ll not dream of winning fortune or fame
While the wheel is turning, turning, turning
I’ll be ever yearning for love’s precious flame
O wheel of fortune
I’m hoping somehow if you’ll ever smile on me please let it be now.

              —Dinah Washington

Table of Contents

Praise for THE ODDS

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Epigraph

 

Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls: 1 in 195

Odds of being killed in a bus accident: 1 in 436,212

Odds of a vehicle being searched by Canadian customs: 1 in 384

Odds of a U.S. citizen being an American Express cardholder: 1 in 10

Odds of a married couple reaching their 25th anniversary: 1 in 6

Odds of getting sick on vacation: 1 in 9

Odds of vomiting on vacation: 1 in 6

Odds of a married couple making love on a given night: 1 in 5

Odds of seeing a shooting star: 1 in 5,800

Odds of the sun coming up: 1 in 1

Odds of surviving going over the Falls in a barrel: 1 in 3

Odds of a couple taking a second honeymoon to the same destination: 1 in 9

Odds of a U.S. citizen filing for bankruptcy: 1 in 17

Odds of surviving going over the Falls without a barrel: 1 in 1,500,000

Odds of a marriage proposal being accepted: 1 in 1.001

Odds of a 53-year-old woman being a grandmother: 1 in 3

Odds of Heart playing “Crazy on You” in concert: 1 in 1

Odds of a black number coming up in roulette (European): 1 in 2.06

Odds of a couple making love on Valentine’s Day: 1 in 1.4

Odds of being served breakfast in bed on Valentine’s Day: 1 in 4

Odds of a jazz band playing “My Funny Valentine” on Valentine’s Day: 1 in 1

Odds of a married woman having an affair: 1 in 3

Odds of a lover proposing on Valentine’s Day: 1 in 17

Odds of winning an Olympic gold medal: 1 in 4,500,000

Odds of a couple fighting on Valentine’s Day: 1 in 5

Odds of the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series: 1 in 25,000

Odds of a divorced couple remarrying: 1 in 20,480

Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls:
        1 in 195

    The final weekend of their marriage, hounded by insolvency, indecision, and, stupidly, half secretly, in the never-distant past ruled by memory, infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler fled the country. North, to Canada. “Like the slaves,” Marion told her sister Celia. They would spend their last days and nights as man and wife as they’d spent the first, nearly thirty years ago, in Niagara Falls, as if, across the border, by that fabled and overwrought cauldron of new beginnings, away from any domestic, everyday claims, they might find each other again. Or at least Art hoped so. Marion was just hoping to endure it with some grace and get back home so she could start dealing with the paperwork required to become, for the first time in her life, a single-filing taxpayer.

They told their daughter Emma they were taking a second honeymoon.

“Plus they’re doing another open house here, so…” Marion, on the other line, qualified.

They weren’t good liars, they were just afraid of the truth and what it might say about them. They were middle-class, prey to the tyranny of appearances and what they could afford, or dare, which was part of their problem. They were too settled and practical for what they were doing, uncomfortable with desperate measures. They could barely discuss the plan between themselves, as if, exposed to light and air, it might evaporate.

With Jeremy, it was enough to say they wanted to see the new casino, a Frank Gehry knockoff featured on the covers of Sunday travel sections and in‑flight magazines. He was impressed with the rate they’d gotten. Art had dug around online to find a bargain.

“Your father the high roller,” Marion joked.

The Valentine’s Getaway Special, it was called: $249, inclusive of meals and a stake of fifty Lucky Bucks toward table games.

They took the bus because it was part of the package, but now, burrowing through a dark wind tunnel of blowing snow somewhere on the outskirts of Buffalo, surrounded by much younger couples—including, frozen zoetropically in the light of oncoming cars, a fleshy pair in Harley gear necking directly across the aisle—they both wished they’d driven.

They’d already made their separate cases at home, so there was no sense going over it again. Art, ever the math major, always bringing matters back to the stingy reality of numbers, had pointed out it would save them fifty dollars in gas, not to mention parking, which Marion thought absurd, and typical. They were so far beyond the stage where fifty dollars might help—like this ridiculous gamble, betting their marriage, essentially, on the spin of a wheel—yet he clung to his old a‑penny-saved‑is‑a‑penny-earned bookkeeping, forgetting the ledger he was tending was drenched in red. Taking the bus represented yet another loss of control, giving themselves up to the hand of fate, or at least a sleep-deprived driver. The only reason she went along with it—besides not wanting to fight—was that she wouldn’t have to worry about Art tailgating people the whole way in this weather, though of course she didn’t say that.

The bus, additionally, was supposed to provide them with cover, as if in gray middle age they weren’t invisible enough. From the beginning Art had conceived of the trip as a secret mission, a fantastic last-ditch escape from the snares of their real life, and while Marion refused to believe in the possibility, as at first she’d refused to believe the severity of their situation, she also knew they’d run out of options. The house had been on the market over a year now without a nibble. They would lose it—had already lost it, honestly. The question was, how much would it cost them?

Everything, barring a miracle. Art had already crunched the numbers, and after a necessary period of denial, Marion had conceded them, which was why they were barreling north on I‑90, Lake Erie a black void beyond the window.

Art just wanted to get there. The Indians gym bag on his lap with the leering, bucktoothed Chief Wahoo made him nervous, as if the banded packets of twenties fitted inside like bricks were stolen. He wouldn’t be able to relax until he’d locked them in the safe, along with the ring he’d managed to keep a secret from Marion. In love he wasn’t frugal, despite what she might say. In another mad surrender to extravagance, for seventy-five more dollars a night, he’d reserved one of the bridal suites on the top floor overlooking the Falls, and despite their guaranteed late arrival, he was afraid the front desk might have lost or ignored his request and given their room away.

Beside him, Marion lowered her mystery and massaged her neck as if she had a crick in it.

“I’m starving,” she said. “Aren’t you hungry?”

It was the only bus of the day, but since he’d made the arrangements he was responsible, just as it was his fault the traffic was bad and the weather ugly, and that night had fallen.

“I’m a little peckish,” he seconded. As in everything this weekend, he wanted them to be on the same side, the two of them against the world.

“What time is our reservation?”

“The earliest I could get was seven-thirty.”

“What time is it now?”

“Just past six. It’s only another twenty miles.”

“I should have grabbed a breakfast bar. I still need to iron my dress. I hope they have one.”

“They should.”

“Should be like a wood bee,” she said.

It was a private joke, a mocking appreciation of the slipperiness of even the simplest hope, a nonce catchphrase like so many others lifted from favorite movies or TV shows that served as a rote substitute for conversation and bound them like shut‑in twins, each other’s best and, most often, only audience. While they’d performed this exchange hundreds of times over the years, en route to graduations, weddings and funerals, and her skepticism was an old routine, delivered lightly, almost without thought, tonight, because he was on a mission to recapture, by one dashing, reckless gesture everything they’d lost, he took it personally. He liked to believe that when he first met her, when she was completely foreign and even more inscrutable, a solemn blonde sociology major freshly graduated from Wooster with granny glasses and a tennis player’s shapely legs, a girlish love of James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, a cedar chest full of pastel sweaters and a shelf crowded with naked neon-haired troll dolls, she had believed in things—luck, goodness, the inexhaustible possibilities of life—and that her disappointment now was a judgment not of the world but of him and their life together. If the room didn’t have an iron, he would call down to the front desk and go get it himself if necessary. They might be broke come Monday morning, and filing for divorce, but he would never stop trying to provide for her happiness, as impossible as that was.

She addressed her mystery again, tilting it to the beam of light from the overhead console. She read two or three a week, the pile of cracked and yellowing paperbacks on her nightstand dwindling as the one on the marble-topped table by the front door grew until it was time to trade them in at the Book Exchange. “I’m reading,” she’d say when his hand was advancing under the covers, and he would retreat.

Across the aisle, in flickering montage, the biker couple clutched at each other like plummeting skydivers, and Art was aware of the space separating him from her. He slipped his hand from atop the gym bag and dropped it to her blue-jeaned thigh, a middle-school move. He squeezed the yielding loaf of her leg, smoothed, patted. It had been weeks since they’d made love, and the last time had been a disappointment, perfunctory on her part, workmanlike on his. He’d had to lobby her for it, imagining ecstasy, the two of them communing, the sweet plenty of her body wiping his mind clean of worry, and then, in the middle, it felt like a chore, and he’d struggled to finish, grudgingly picturing the overly rouged girl who did the traffic on the morning news. Tonight, with the Falls roaring below their window, he would prove that while they’d reached the age where passion sometimes flagged, his love for her was as strong as ever. Didn’t she see? The money, the house, none of it mattered. Since they’d met, with the exception of those few torturous months he’d long since repudiated, she was all he wanted. Mawkish as it sounded, he could say it with a straight face: as long as they had each other, they were rich.

Marion stayed his hand, covering it with her own, and kept reading. With nowhere to focus his attention, he was always needy on vacation, just as he’d been following her around the house all fall since he’d lost his job. He was eager—too eager, really—and normally she could divert him with a list of chores. She put him in charge of the leaves, checking on him surreptitiously from the bathroom window as she would Emma and Jeremy when they were teenagers, glad to have an hour to herself. One of her worries about this weekend was how much time they would spend alone together. At home she could busy herself running errands and making supper, messing around on Facebook and watching TV, and hide behind her mystery in bed. Here he would want more of her, as if this really was a second honeymoon.

To her it was the exact opposite. With every passing mile she was returning to a place where thirty years ago she’d been a different and certainly a better person—if naïve and a bit silly, then relatively untouched by the larger sorrows of life, several of which, later on, were the result of her own decisions, choosing desire over duty only to discover she was wrong about everything, including who she was. The idea of that younger, blameless Marion chastened her, as if once they arrived she would have to meet with her and formally review her regrets once more.

She didn’t care about the money. She was sad about the house, and sorry for Art, but the children were gone and they could live anywhere. Secretly, as horrible as it sounded, she was actually looking forward to moving into a smaller place and starting over, or so she told herself, because sometimes, alone in the car at a stoplight or on the toilet with the door closed, she was subject to moments of trancelike blankness, staring straight ahead at nothing while biting the inside of one cheek as if trying to solve an impossible problem.

She wasn’t in love with him, or not the way she thought she should be. She wasn’t in love with Karen anymore, if she’d ever really been. She wasn’t in love with anyone, especially not herself. At some point, after menopause had robbed her of that bodily need, she’d convinced herself that the great movements in her life were in the past and succumbed to the inertia of middle age—prematurely, it seemed. While Art saw the divorce as a legal formality, a convenient shelter for whatever assets they might have left, from the beginning she’d taken the idea seriously, weighing her options and responsibilities—plumbing, finally, her heart—trying, unsuccessfully, to keep the ghost of Wendy Daigle out of the equation.

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“At his best, O’Nan (Emily, Alone) nails the persistence of betrayal long after wrongs have actually been committed…”—Publishers Weekly

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