Last fall I listened to the audio of my first book by Stewart O' Nan, "Emily Alone". It didn't knock my socks off, but it was a gentle, well-written testament to aging. I was impressed by O' Nan's ability to bring the protagonist to life right before my eyes...especially the character of an elderly woman, which is basically everything opposite of O' Nan.
Boy this guy sure has a fan base. If you go out and read some reviews, tell me if he hasn't been elevated to the status of rock star, or maybe even Santa Claus. You won't hear me say this often, as I am always one to speak my mind without hesitation, but I was scared to death of reading one of his books and not liking it. And then having to TELL you I didn't like it. And that is pretty much what happened here...my worst fear. But it wouldn't be right if I weren't honest. So let me tell you about the book.
Synopsis: To the innocent bystander, Art and Marion Fowler are your typical, middle-aged couple: they live in a Cleveland suburb, in a gorgeous old home, and have a son and a daughter who have been raised and left home. Both however, have lost their jobs, are on the verge of bankruptcy and foreclosure, and whose marriage is in utter ruin. So on Valentine's weekend, they leave for Niagara Falls, where they took their first honeymoon. Maybe they can salvage their relationship, and at the same time, gamble every penny they have (stuffed in a duffel bag) in the casino and win big so they can remain solvent.
My thoughts: I'm once again amazed at the author's ability to create believable, three-dimensional characters. In just under 200 pages, O 'Nan describes Art and Marion in such detail, you know them as you would yourself. He allows us into their minds and hearts by using a first-person point of view for both, which I think was a smart move for the story. When a marriage is failing, there are always two sides to the story. To get both sides, and understand the motivations and hidden agendas and baggage carried by Art and Marion was...insightful, I guess, but at the same time distressing.
And here was my biggest issue. While this may be a portrait of the American marriage, I did not like it. I didn't like the portrait. I didn't like Art or Marion. Art wanted so badly to please Marion and make it work, he was pathetic and spineless. He was like a whipped puppy. I understood where Marion was coming from, but she was a bitter bitch. She was negative, and would be the last person I'd want to spend more than five minutes with (well, except for when she got stoned at the Heart concert). Although the story ends on a note of hope, there was very little here that seemed like a love story. In fact, every time I picked up the book I felt ill at ease, and could only read for a few pages before setting it down and looking for something else to do.
I have heard a few people mention their disappointment with this book, but overall, the love for the story and O 'Nan is overwhelming. So if you are a fan of O' Nan, you may love it too. I would like to give him a third chance, but I will be very careful about which one I will choose.
2.5 out of 5 stars