An emotional richness permeates this short novel about a couple on the verge of ending their marriage while pondering whether they can salvage it.
In recent years, O’Nan (Emily, Alone, 2011, etc.) has emerged as an accomplished chronicler of the bittersweet mundane, the everyday stories of characters who are no better or worse than their readers, but simply human, suffering through lost jobs, disintegrating families, dashed dreams, while showing a resilience in the appreciation of whatever blessings their lives afford them. Marking their 30th wedding anniversary, Art and Marion prepare for their impending divorce by taking one last trip together, a re-creation of their honeymoon at Niagara Falls. It’s a splurge they can no longer afford, as they’ve both lost their jobs and they’re about to lose their house, but Art hopes that going for broke at the casino with what little they have saved can reverse their fortunes. And though they’ve both had affairs that neither have been able to forget and at least one has found it hard to forgive, they still love each other. Or are comfortable with each other. Or at least used to each other. She recognizes that she has “succumbed to the inertia of middle age” while he worries that “without Marion he wouldn’t know what to do or even who he was.” So they spend their weekend drinking and gambling, grumbling about the tourist attractions, attending a Heart concert with a bunch of other middle-aged fans (a hilarious set piece), stumbling toward making love, complaining about uncomfortable shoes and going to the bathroom (a lot, for such a compact narrative). Each chapter title gives the odds on something to do with the novel (“Odds of a married couple making love on a given night: 1 in 5,” “Odds of Heart playing ‘Crazy on You’ in concert: 1 in 1”). Given the novel’s subtitle, A Love Story, the odds of it not ending tragically are pretty good.
A Valentine to marriage as it is actually lived in troubled times.