Do They Feel Lucky? Sex, Chips, and Barrels: Stewart O’Nan’s The Odds

Dear Reader:

It’s so nice to have dog friends – other good friends who love dogs, not dogs I love, but those are excellent too.

Last night Christy treated me to a lovely dinner and lots of dog talk.

This morning Mark and I took Louie, Sophie, Gus, and Zoe out for 1.5 hours of hiking.  Sophie is new to Mark and Laura – she seems to be a border collie-pappillon mix – how that occurred, no one will probably ever know.  But she looks like a perfect tiny replica of a border collie with a big, foo-foo fluffy tail.  We also saw Miley, one of two neighborhood goldens with that name.  Like Gus, Miley’s coat has thickened, filled-out, and darkened in recent months.

Gus and Zoe gave me a fright when they took off for the creek – down a steep incline and at max water levels – it is a small creek, but right now quite capable of carrying away either one of them.  Ten minutes later as we were heading for a trail downward, they came back up with Gus completely wet, so he did go in the water.  All are safe and sound, but yet another thing to watch out for – in addition to the persistent deer carcass coyotes likely created by driving the deer over the edge into an old wire fence remnant.  Gus has an excellent memory for such things.

181) A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914-39 by Nicola Beauman (hard copy, library)

I finished this book by Nicola (of Persephone Press) written when she was working for Virago Press.  I highly recommend it, especially if you are looking to get a sense of the lay of the land with regard to the mid-century British female authors (Bowen, Whipple, Bagnold etc etc) that are all the rage in a lot of our book blogs these days.

Beaumann discusses the themes – sex, gender, feminism etc in these books and weaves together the authors and their work.  In many ways this echoed Nicola Humble’s (they don’t appear to be the same person) Middlebrow Novels although Humble delved more into class and social change and was more analytical.

I found the sex chapter particularly interesting – to learn how and what authors were saying and how and when they were getting things past censors (or not).  Fascinating, especially since female sexuality and pleasure have been such loaded concepts for so long.  Even though I grew up in the 60s and 70s, I think we’ve still seen quite a sea change in this area very recently with the current 20s era generation even more comfortable and “owning” of these concepts than my generation was.

Beaumann includes an appendix that lists the authors she discusses and provides a summary blurb about them – I think that this alone is worth the cost of the book.

415) The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O’Nan

A few years ago I treated myself to a bunch of New York Times’ best of the year novels around Christmas time heading into my annual holiday week off read and eatathon.  I can’t remember most of the books, but, happily two of them were O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster and Pers Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses.  Both were sublime, memorable, moving and beautiful. Out Stealing Horses is so powerful.  And Last Night at the Lobster is a finely etched treatment of the closing night at a Red Lobster (if, happily, the Red Lobster chain has not come to your country, it is a seafood fast food chain prevalent in the United States).

Like Last Night, The Odds takes a short period of time (three days) with intimates and delicately sketches their relationship with carefully chosen dialogue, body movements, feelings, and settings.  Marion and Art Fowler’s crumbled marriage and lost jobs have taken them to a last ditch effort at recovery through gambling in Niagara Falls, Canada.  Affairs lurk, bankruptcy looms, and rejection weaves its way through their minutes and hours together.

O’Nan’s books tend to be short novels (The Odds is just 179 pp long) so even the most pressed for time (you know who you are!) can get through one in an evening or two.  Both Petterson and O’Nan are, in my experience, rare male novelists who focus, in-depth, on relationships.  My preference for novels by female authors is based in the fact that they tend to write about relationships and I find this topic endlessly fascinating.  So, it is wonderful to encounter male writers who do a magnificent job of dealing with this area.  I also appreciate learning a male point of view on these things.  For instance, I think O’Nan is able to bring great understanding to the male sense of sex’s role within relationship – how desire, rejection, fulfillment affect men.  But he also brings great sensitivity to his treatment of women.

And finally, it was clear that he spent a lot of time in Niagara Falls (if you have not been there, there are two – one in New York State, on the US side, and one in Ontario, on the Canadian side).  The area is a unique mix of extreme grandeur and danger and kitsch with a longer history of tacky, pseudo-romantic motels, restaurants, and entertainments than most other areas in North America.  The town(s), or at least the areas right around the falls, become a third character in the book, supporting the dynamics and story of the couple’s (last?) weekend together.  If you’ve never read O’Nan, do yourself a favor and give him a go.

416) The Leopard by Jo Nesbø (hard copy)

I’m reading another Jo Nesbø mystery featuring Harry Hole.  I picked this a bit early on one of my trips to Europe – but you can get it here now.  Harry is recovering from the traumas described in The Snowman (I have it and The Redbreast but haven’t read them – I regret it a bit, but wanted to get going on a big thick hard copy mystery to take on an impending trip and the other books are on my kindle).  We are introduced to a creepy killer who has designed an object that he can insert into someone’s mouth and drive them to unknowlingly kill themselves when their jaws can’t withstand the pain anymore.  Fairly early on, we come to know (or think we know) who it is – but why they are doing it and how they are choosing victims and how Harry is going to catch them is unclear.  I’ve enjoyed Nesbø’s mysteries, but this is borderline too creepy for me, although I’m sure I’ll finish it.

Spring is Sprung!

Along with the rest of the country, we’ve had quite a mild winter culminating in last week’s day after day of record-breaking highs (several days it hit 80 F).  Usually it takes a month of April sunshine to fully melt our lake effect snow, but it left us in under a week (hip, hip, hooray!).  And so, we’re actually having a spring.  My crocuses are blooming nearly two months ahead of time.  And I’m happy to be able to hike the dogs whereever now that the snowmobiles are gone, the trails are clear, and the mud is drying up.

My garden circa 2005

I don’t garden on this scale anymore, but I do have random perennials still thriving and a few self-seeding annuals.

And soon my irises will be back – although not this exquisite gem that didn’t sustain itself more than a few years.

Happy Spring!  Ruby



  1. Mary

    Ruby, I LOVE Stewart O’Nan. Some time ago I had read Last Night at the Lobster, and recently read (in order) Wish you were Here and Emily Alone. The latter is a sequel to Wish you were Here. I love his exploration of character and his ability to get into women’s psyches. The books are almost plotless, but plot is not the point with his writing. I intend to read all of his books eventually, but not in an unbroken string. They are too precious to gobble down fast, and for me are best saved for treats here and there.

    • Hi Mary: Thanks so much for writing. Yes, you put it so well, O’Nan’s work is something to savor. Not something to be read quickly – and I tend to be quite guilty of hurrying through books! thanks again, Ruby


  1. The List « A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books

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