The Odds and The Debt

Stewart O'Nan's The Odds is, appropriately, subtitled "A Love Story." It's not of the Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele school of love stories, which is probably why I found it such an interesting story.

There's a great line in Joan Didion's essay "On Going Home." Didion writes that "Marriage is the ultimate betrayal." Within the context of her essay, she's talking about how marriage changes the familial dynamic, how her people call her husband "Joan's husband" in his presence because he hasn't quite cracked the barrier to becoming part of the immediate family.

But there are an infinite number of betrayals--some small and innocent, others huge and unforgivable--that color the glass of most marriages. In this case, we see infidelities on both sides that would choke the life from many unions.

Art and Marion are approaching middle age and lurching toward divorce. They still harbor a sort of love for each other, though more often than not their interactions are strained and calculated. The frivolity, the fun, the relaxed love that should accompany a marriage has flown away, because of Art's infidelity (Marion's, curiously, remains hidden in this novella--a plot point that would probably create a much different story if she had come clean).

O'Nan paints these characters in three dimensions; neither holds a place of moral superiority. The author's complex prose style is very descriptive and the story unfolds quickly. They are taking one last vacation to Canada, where they will wager their savings on games of chance at the casino. Both recently laid off and falling beneath the burden of crushing debt, this is as much a tale of the times as it is a story of mutual redemption for our protagonists.

I enjoyed reading this story very much, partly as a guidebook on what to look out for in avoiding Art and Marion's traps. I'm very thankful for the life my wife and I have made together. We'll have our ten-year anniversary this fall, and ours has been a happy marriage.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust. Doesn't it always? We love each other and we treat each other kindly, and I think that's where Marion and Art went wrong. Still, I'm hopeful that their marriage will have a happier second act. That final line, in spite of everything that comes before it, seems to indicate that's at least a possibility.


The Debt (2011) has a lot going for it. Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain deliver fine performances in their portrayal of an Israeli intelligence officer charged with bringing a heinous Nazi war criminal to justice. The story spans three decades, and shows what a burden guilt and treachery can have on one's conscience. 

I liked the score very much, and the performances were good. The story delivered some very tense moments (I hated watching Jesper Christensen eating over and over again, but that's a personal deal, not a flaw in the storytelling) and I liked the third act quite a lot.

And I'm not one of those folks that has to have a tidy ending. I think ambiguity often is the best conclusion, but in this case I would have liked to learn the end results of the note she left. I'll leave it at that, and just say that this is a solid B+ for me, and that you'd do well to give it a look...

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