The new Atlantic has a long article bashing the latest Great American Novel, Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding. Remember Freedom? Last year's Great American Novel? How the book pushers kept claiming that Franzen was the new Tolstoy? Embarrassing, isn't it. The first chapters were interesting, but it fell off pretty fast. To me it was as if he had gotten tired of his characters and hated them but was forcing himself to finish writing the thing, moving them around, putting them through their paces. I wonder how many people bought that novel but did not get all the way through it. I finished it, to the bitter end, and decided it was pretty bad. I'm sure Franzen and his publishers did well financially.
So, I was thinking, "What new novel that I recently read has stuck in my mind? That I really enjoyed reading? "And I realized it was The Odds by Stewart O'Nan. I'm laughing to myself as I recall the silly antics and misadventures of the addled couple, Art and Marion, at the center of this tale. And yet they are completely lovable and convincing, and you root for them to win. I won't give away the ending. I was charmed, really. I love Stewart O'Nan's other novels, too. They are all about decent and bewildered people caught up in ridiculous circumstances not of their making.
I really love his work. Emily Alone has a fine portrait of a woman of my generation. Older, but I'm a pre-Boomer like Emily. I like many things about the Boomers, but I'm really a staid character, like Emily. I don't know why Boomers take the risks in life they do. Even staggering into old age they are always willing to try for that last big prize. Really. I like stability. But Emily gets precious little of that in her life. All this is highly entertaining if it isn't happening to you.
Here is O'Nan, being interviewed on the fly.
And here is a sample of his prose from The Odds, on the miseries of what is supposed to be a nostalgic, romantic and perhaps profitable vacation to Niagara Falls, if Art's scheme to win at the gambling tables pays off. Note the impeccable comic timing:
...Ruby Tuesday's and the Great Canadian Midway arcade and the gigantic Sky Wheel and the Rainforest Cafe and the mysteriously named Boston Pizza, toward the crest of the hill, where a block-long model of the Empire State Building lay tipped on its side, King Kong perched on top, gripping its antenna and snarling down at them with unfocused, totemic rage--Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum. "Wow, " Art said, "It's completely different," stopping on the corner to get a picture.
Art's a person who always gets in the spirit of things and knows how to have a good time, as evinced by his enthusiasm for this garbage. Marion's point of view is different. She has a blister on her foot, for one thing. She says of herself that she is not a fun person. This is all very droll. I am amazed at how skillfully he pulls this off, showing what they are like, what's happened to them, what's happened to Niagara Falls, without causing the reader to despair.
He is just such fun to read!