Some investors reacted negatively to Friday’s announcement that Darden will sell the Red Lobster restaurant chain to a private equity firm for $2.1 billion.
Wall Street bankers and lawyers can argue over the wisdom of dumping the seafood restaurants for quick cash — but leave it to a novelist to consider the real cost for workers as they’re forced to deal with the upheaval of new corporate management.
Stewart will be giving a reading at Writers in Paradise on Thursday, January 23, with Lori Roy. Below is the full schedule
2014 Eckerd College Writers’ Conference Evening Reading Series:
Saturday, January 18
Tim O’Brien with Q&A moderated by Dennis Lehane
Wednesday, January 22*
This post will be updated as new reviews come in.
“The Odds” is a comedy, but a rueful one that anyone who’s ever stayed up late wondering how to pay the bills or if a marriage was worth saving will recognize.
O’Nan weaves in vivid descriptions of the falls’ natural wonders and the cheesy attractions. (Art insists on touring Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, as they did on their honeymoon.) O’Nan is never condescending, ever sympathetic to his main characters.
O’Nan’s prose is agile, light and utterly unself-conscious. Very contemporary. At the same time, his superb rendering of psychological drama recalls 19th-century novelists like George Eliot. He has good fun with this story.
Released late last month, The Odds is a crisp 180 pages with plenty of humour and O’Nan’s sharp dialogue (a chapter where the couple believes they see Nancy Wilson of Heart at a local restaurant shows O’Nan’s impeccable grasp of characters). But all throughout is the ominous feeling something bad is about to happen to them, which is only natural when happiness rides on red or black at the roulette table.
Stewart 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. His great 2007 novella, Last Night at the Lobster, is about the last shift at a closing seafood restaurant in a crummy New England mall. Now, O’Nan has just published a powerful new novella about the unemployed called The Odds.
The latest novel by Stewart O’Nan (Speed Queen) is an ideal book for a rainy, tea-sipping afternoon. There’s a calm, enveloping tone to the story that belies its unflinching exploration of a woman’s chronically discontented heart. Readers of O’Nan’s earlier novel Wish You Were Here will recognize the Emily of the title as Emily Maxwell, now 80 and widowed and living alone with her dog, Rufus, in a classy residential neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Her husband died years ago, and her children have moved to other parts of the country with their own families. She has remained close to her late husband’s sister, Arlene, and the two of them make weekly forays in Arlene’s car to a breakfast buffet that offers a two-for-one deal on Tuesdays. This weekly brunch trip is both the high and the low point of Emily’s week. And it’s on one of these outings that we first catch a glimmer of Emily’s odd blend of affection, dependence and resentment toward those she’s closest to, a complicated attitude she holds without seeming to be aware of it herself. When Arlene collapses in a fainting spell at the buffet, Emily is suddenly forced into an independence she’d forgotten she could manage. Taking care of her sister-in-law and herself, and doing a good job of it, gives her a new confidence as she surveys her life and starts the hard work of reconciling herself to its approaching end. Not much actually happens in the story; its chief pleasure comes from unraveling this little old lady’s messy tangle of emotions. O’Nan never retreats from Emily’s less flattering qualities: she means well, but she can be hypercritical, tight with money, and hung up on outmoded courtesies, and she’s consistently surprised when others fail to take her own bleak view of things. It’s refreshing to see someone who could’ve been a stock character drawn so fully. In fact all the women in the book are well-realized; the men are peripheral, opaque or simply beside the point. That you never really miss them is a testament to Emily’s strength and complexity. She holds her own.
Becky Ohlsen is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.