The Odds: A Love Story

The Odds: A Love Story

by Stewart O'Nan
The Odds: A Love Story

The Odds: A Love Story

by Stewart O'Nan



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In the new novel from the author of Emily, Alone and Henry, Himself, 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101554357
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/19/2012
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 192
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Stewart O'Nan is the author of twelve previous novels, including Songs for the Missing, A Prayer for the Dying, and Snow Angels. In Faithful, he and Stephen King chronicled the 2004 Boston Red Sox. He was born, raised, and lives in Pittsburgh with his family.


Avon, CT

Date of Birth:

February 4, 1961

Place of Birth:

Pittsburgh, PA


B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Boston University, 1983; M.F.A., Cornell University, 1992

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,

“[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


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.


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

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


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



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.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

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

Reading Group Guide

Faced with unemployment, foreclosure, and a drowning marriage, Art and Marion Fowler are a suburban couple struggling to maintain the appearance of the American dream even as their lives slowly disintegrate. Living on credit and looking toward bankruptcy, Art hatches a seemingly impossible plan: take what little money they have left to a Niagara Falls casino and hope that over the course of a weekend, they can win enough back to save themselves. It’s an act that is equal parts desperation and optimism, and it is the interplay between these two emotions that runs like a current through Stewart O’Nan’s novel The Odds. Alternating between Marion and Art’s respective doubts, fears, and hopes, the book delicately traces their weekend together at the edge of the Falls and on the precipice of their future.

Nearly thirty years ago, Art and Marion honeymooned at Niagara Falls and Art hopes that returning will not only recoup their financial losses but also recover the happiness of those early days, erasing the hurt that has accumulated over three decades. In a luxury honeymoon suite and with a new diamond ring in his pocket, Art plans to reignite Marion’s love for him and release them both from the memories of his infidelity twenty years earlier. He is hopeful yet hesitant, hindered by flashes of self–criticism, guilt, and erotic memories of his old lover. Marion, on the other hand, is haunted by the memories of her own mistakes and is preparing to return home ready for divorce.

O’Nan’s novel is a study in the power of last chances, of the value of the crazy gesture in the face of an oppressive reality; the trip is an escape from their old selves, and Art and Marion, for better and for worse, are running away together. Amid the subtle recriminations and regrets that come from decades of marriage, there is also the intimacy of inside jokes and finishing each other’s sentences, the familiarity of each other’s bodies and desires. Art and Marion make love, share old memories, and find themselves cheering each other on in their absurd adventure. They have brought their entire lives to the casino, and neither knows how the gamble will pay off.


Stewart O’Nan was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His novels include Songs for the Missing, Last Night at the Lobster, and Emily, Alone. His nonfiction works include Faithful, a chronicle of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, which he co–authored with Stephen King. He currently resides in Pittsburgh with his family. This is his thirteenth novel.

Q. Many of your novels, such as Last Night at the Lobster and Emily, Alone, focus on the frustrations and dramas of daily life and people’s response to the circumstances that fate assigns them. What is appealing to you about telling these quieter, more intimate stories? Do you see yourself as a chronicler of contemporary American life?

I guess my focus lately has been more on the immediate world around me—the hidden stories that are shared by millions of people every day. My hope is that by showing what’s important to regular people, readers might add their own life experiences to those of my characters so that the book means something to them other than an escape. And, also, that they might spend some meaningful time with a person they’d otherwise never notice.

I wouldn’t say I’m a chronicler of American life, since that seems kind of dry and clinical, though I do seem drawn again and again to very American concepts of success and failure, innocence and experience, faith and despair. And the many layers that make up the country.

Q. What is the significance of the Dinah Washington lyrics that open the novel? Was this song always important to you?

I discovered Dinah Washington’s version of “Wheel of Fortune” just by luck, while I was in the middle of the first draft, and it seemed so much to fit Art and Marion’s situation, especially the romantic’s hope of “If you’ll ever smile on me, please let it be now.”

Q. The Odds is a novel rich in emotion but spare in prose. Do your first drafts begin in this economical style or is your process of rewriting one of paring away unnecessary detail with each revision? How many drafts do you typically write? How long does the process take?

I’d call the prose clear rather than spare, since I did give myself fair leeway in terms of figurative language (anyone dropping “zoetropically” can’t honestly be called spare). But sentence–wise it’s not the winding, clause–clotted Jamesian approach I used in Emily, Alone, and that was a decision I made early on. I only did four or five full drafts of this one, since it’s small and came out pretty clean. It’s essentially a duet, with a contained time frame and unified setting. There are nowhere near as many moving parts as in, say, Songs for the Missing or even Last Night at the Lobster, which had a broad supporting cast. Overall this one took about a year from start to finish, which is pretty quick.

Q. On page 28, Art says, “This is Niagara Falls, nothing’s real here.” Why did you choose Niagara Falls, a destination known as much for its gaudiness as its association with romance, as the setting for this novel?

I liked the idea of using a public space to play out Art and Marion’s private drama. As with the Red Lobster, the reader already has a certain feel for Niagara Falls, and its insistence on romance and splendor is a perfect foil for what Art and Marion are fighting.

Q. This is not just a character–driven novel, but one with a very small cast. Readers are intimately involved with every aspect of Art and Marion’s thoughts and feelings, and their enjoyment of the book succeeds or fails on their emotional connection with these two characters. Did this intense focus feel risky to you? When writing, did you feel a particular sympathy for one character or the other?

It’s the story of a marriage that’s reached a very shaky middle age, and to show the effect of that on both characters means the reader needs to be intimate with both, trying, by getting and staying close, to understand what they themselves can’t make sense of (love and the loss of love both being mysterious), and not choosing one over the other. The risk is that in trying to make both appealing, you’ll fail to tell the truth of how it really feels to be in that situation. Better to opt for honesty and hope the reader can empathize with both characters. Neither is heroic, and yet, while they’ve made some regrettable, even stupid, choices, I think they’re decent people, and I sympathize with both of them.

Q. The rhetorical device of opening each chapter with the likely odds for the events within that chapter is witty and entertaining. Clearly some are tongue–in–cheek but others are not; how did you come up with these figures?

Most of the figures came from a book called What Are the Odds? Others I tracked down online. The scariest was the one with the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series. As I was finishing the book, they were still in first place. Luckily, the odds caught up with them.

Q. Much of Art and Marion’s financial difficulty stems from their home—the mortgage, the cost of repairs and maintenance, etc.—yet for many people, owning a home is an integral part of the American dream. Why is this? Looking at the state of the economy and the current housing situation, is this aspiration doing us more harm than good?

Because the United States is so vast, it’s natural that having your own little piece of it is part of the American dream. In the past, it was also the best investment you could make. Buy low, take good care of your place and raise the kids there, then sell it and retire on the profits. For several generations that was the formula for success. That hasn’t been true for a while, as the collapse of the real estate market and subsequently the nation’s economy showed. But that doesn’t stop us from wanting a place we can call our own.

Q. The novel ends on a surprisingly positive note. Would you say that you’re an optimist?

I’m definitely an optimist. No matter how bad things are, I’m always hoping something good will happen.

Q. What happens to Art and Marion after the close of the book? Will they both be happy ten years from now?

Originally, I was going to follow Art and Marion home the next morning, and then speed up time to show the reader how this windfall complicates things—how it postpones but doesn’t truly alter what was going to happen to them. But then I thought: life isn’t like that. It doesn’t wrap up and leave us with just a flat end result. Life is the high and the low moments and everything in between, and here’s a special, singular moment, a weird vantage point from which to look back and say, yes, this is wild, but really, those thirty years, with all their hard work and tears and compromise, were the real payoff. Married life.

Q. Although you are primarily a novelist, you have also published nonfiction. In terms of artistic satisfaction or challenge, what does one medium provide that the other does not? What is your next project?

Both fiction and nonfiction provide the pleasure of discovery. With fiction, it’s in the writing and in the daydreaming about the characters and their situations. In nonfiction, more often the discovery’s in the research, the pleasure of unearthing facts or connections you had no idea existed. The writing itself is less revelatory.

Not sure what my next project is. I’ve got several clamoring for the top spot. Typically, one will get hot and nudge the others aside, but I won’t know that till I spend a few months at my desk.

  • What is your opinion of Art and Marion’s marriage? Is it worth saving? Is one of them more sympathetic than the other?
  • Early in the novel, Marion believes that she isn’t in love with Art to the degree that she should be; later, Art wonders to himself whether it’s possible to have a sexually passionate relationship at their age. How does love change over the course of a long marriage? Are these changes positive or negative?
  • Who is Karen and what was the nature of her relationship with Marion?
  • Art is ashamed of losing his job and asks Marion to keep his unemployment secret, despite everyone knowing that she too had been fired earlier. Does society place a sterner judgment on a man losing his job than a woman?
  • In the middle of the night, Marion makes a bargain with fate: “If he comes to me now, she thought. If I don’t turn around but just think of him, and he comes to me” (p. 46). Her thoughts suggest that she would be willing to try again with Art but also that she might be looking for a sign that it’s okay to give up. Which do you think is true?
  • Both Art and Marion still nurse the painful memory of his affair with Wendy Daigle twenty years ago. Do you feel that Marion should be over her anger by now, or is it impossible to completely heal a marriage after infidelity? How does Marion’s experience with Karen affect your opinion?
  • Art believes that “drink revealed one’s true feelings” (p. 124) and so when he gives Marion the new ring during their drunken night, he feels that her tearful acceptance signals a renewed love for him. When she wakes up the next morning, she has no memory of the exchange and her response to the ring is markedly different. Which do you feel was the more authentic response?
  • Reread the conversation Marion and Art have on page 160 as they raise their glasses in toast to Valentine’s Day, claiming to love each other “whatever happens.” What are their respective intentions and feelings? Is there any misunderstanding between them? As long as they’re both happy, does it matter?
  • Art and Marion bet their lives’ savings in the casino. Have you ever taken a similarly dramatic risk with some aspect of your own life? What was the situation, what were the stakes, and how did your gamble turn out?
  • Look at the last sentence in the novel. What does O’Nan mean? Do you agree? Do you feel there was a specific moment during their stay that made the ending inevitable?
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