by Stewart O'Nan
It opens, “The final weekend of their marriage, hounded by insolvency, and, stupidly, half secretly, in the never distant past ruled by memory, infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler fled the country.” Yeah, it’s a bit unwieldy, but it gives you the basics of the entire novella’s plot, which is this:
After decades of marriage, and deep into middle age, Art and Marion are at the end of their rope. Both are out of work. They’re about to loose the house. The marriage is shaky. The kids are out on their own, but the two of them are flat broke. So they’ve decided to go for broke. For their anniversary weekend, they’re heading across the border at
where they spent their honeymoon all those years ago. They’ve got the Honeymoon Suite, and they’re hitting the casino. They’re smuggling across the last few tens of thousands in cash they have left. If they can double it, they can keep the house for a while longer. If they can’t, they’ll loose it all. And if so, they’ll return home and get divorced to protect what very little they may be able to salvage. Niagara Falls
The novella tells the story of what happens that weekend, but also the story of Art and
’s lives together, their past indiscretions, and secrets or secret agendas one or the other may have. Dispersed regularly throughout the book like chapter headings are statistics: Marion
- Odds of a
tourist visiting U.S. : 1 in 195 Niagara Falls
- Odds of being killed in a bus accident: 1 in 436,212
- Odds of the sun coming up: 1 in 1
- Odds of a
citizen filing for bankruptcy: 1 in 17 U.S.
- Odds of the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series: 1 in 25,000
These statistics were a bit like a running commentary on the action, and also on the times in which we live. (And I found myself wondering if any of them were true.) In any case, I found them to be a delightful and often comic punctuation to the story.
I’ve never read Mr. O’Nan before, but his prose was a pleasure to read. His characters had all the quirks and flaws of real people, and I got to know this couple and appreciate what they had together. The spare story moved quickly, and like any story that builds up to a roll of the dice, it keeps you hanging on to the very last page. I rooted for a happy ending. Frankly, I was just hoping for resolution, because you never know with these things. I left satisfied, and feeling like I’d just discovered a tiny gem of the new year.