More Best of 2012 for The Odds

More Best of 2012 for The Odds!

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The piercingly perceptive author of “Last Night at the Lobster” and “Emily, Alone” starts this gemlike stunner in Cleveland, where middle-class Art and Marion Fowler stuff $8,000 in a gym bag, flee their foreclosing suburban home and take a bus to Niagara Falls, Canada. Art hopes for a gambling score and rekindled romance on the $249 “Valentine’s Getaway Special”; Marion wants out. This brief, of-our-times story is full of surprise. O’Nan, a Pittsburgh resident, may well be the best Midwestern novelist going.

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There is a unique pleasure in reading a writer who has been on your list for some time but has evaded capture. For me, that writer was Stewart O’Nan. I had caught references to the wonders of his writing for years and received suggestions to read this or that. But it wasn’t until I picked up his 2012 novel “The Odds” that I understood what friends and critics had been talking about.

“The Odds” is subtitled “A Love Story,” but it is the tale of a love that has gone through the wringer of betrayal and disappointment amid the financial squeeze of an economy that has driven more than a few couples into a ditch. Art and Marion Fowler’s marriage is on the brink of collapse; they’ve lost their jobs and now they’re threatened with the loss of their home. So they decide to return to Niagara Falls to revisit the tourist spot where they honeymooned. In a gym bag is all the money they have left; their goal is to turn thousands of dollars in cash into many thousands more.

Art also hopes to save their marriage, much to the dismay of Marion, who has all but checked out, bitter over a long-ago affair and disillusioned with how Art has met middle age. Touring the falls, playing the roulette wheel — with a sure-fire system to win — and seeing the band Heart all figure into Art’s hail Mary of a plan to win back his wife before it’s too late — and, perhaps, keep their home.

O’Nan writes with a stunning precision and deep reservoir of empathy for Art and Marion — the same qualities that enlivened “Last Night at the Lobster,” his novel of the closing of a Red Lobster restaurant. My advice: Don’t make the mistake I did by waiting to read O’Nan. Read him now.

Steve Mills, Tribune reporter

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