That tension between husband and wife could grow moldy in the close confines of these largely action-free pages, but O’Nan knows how to break up the passages of recrimination and regret. In short, finely cut scenes, we see the Fowlers whiling away the hours before their big game in the casino: They tour the Falls; they dress up for a fancy dinner; they get high during a revival Heart concert — all the corny cliches of romance laid out in the brochures. They even dutifully make love in the giant hot tub, a hilariously awkward bit of acrobatics for two 50-year-olds trying to recapture the magic. And each chapter offers a wry statistic to set the mood: “Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls: 1 in 95,” “Odds of vomiting on vacation: 1 in 6,” “Odds of being served breakfast in bed on Valentine’s Day: 1 in 4.”
But it’s O’Nan’s attention to the murmurs of exasperation and smothered ardor that will unsettle you. I read “The Odds” over my 27th anniversary, and I defy any long-married husband to make it through these pages without feeling the bracing wind of exposure. Our neediness, our brittle impatience, our loony sense that sexual satisfaction redeems the universe: It’s all laid out here in prose that’s deceptively modest. A few hours with this witty, sad, surprisingly romantic novel might be a better investment for troubled couples than a month of marriage counseling.