January 25, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Stewart O'Nan's new novel The Odds is a brilliant depiction of a marriage on edge, clinging to hope while its participants' vulnerabilities are fully on show both to themselves and each other.
In the Washington Post, Ron Charles wrote of the book:
"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."
It's funny that Largehearted Boy asked me to write about the songs in The Odds, because of all my novels, it probably has the least music in it. My earlier books like Everyday People or The Speed Queen have extensive contemporary soundtracks and even featured artists, like Cat Stevens in Snow Angels, or Fleetwood Mac in The Good Wife. Sibelius and Nielsen color The Names of the Dead, and a piped-in mix of corporate top 40 anchors Last Night at the Lobster, while Emily in Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone prefers Bach, Gabrieli and Purcell.
But Art and Marion Fowler aren't great music lovers, and since they're on vacation, they don't control the music they listen to, so the songs they run into--as with Niagara Falls itself--are public and mainstream. At the casino where they spend Valentine's weekend, the gaming floor jangles with the electronic pinging of video poker and slot machines, the only songs maddening snatches of traditional ditties like "Camptown Races" and "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "La Cucaracha." At a Sunday brunch on Valentine's Day they find a jazz trio tackling that old warhorse "My Funny Valentine," its predictability emptying the standard of any real emotion Even at the Heart concert they attend, where Art wants to apply the lyrics of "Crazy on You" to their precarious marriage, he realizes that the classic rock the Wilson sisters are dishing up is the musical equivalent of fast food--endlessly replicated and unthinkingly consumed by millions, therefore belonging to no one. Two of the encores Heart plays aren't even their own songs--Led Zeppelin's "Rock 'n Roll" and The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me"--further preventing Art from taking the experience personally.
Rather than the music being attached to characters and their moods or personalities in programmatic fashion, in The Odds it seems the music--like the casino and the tourist attractions surrounding Niagara Falls, or the ceaseless roaring of the Falls itself--exists outside of the characters, another impersonal force. Like the pouring Falls and the plinking machines, it distracts them, but to no purpose, and only briefly. At the end of their long marriage, Art and Marion have a lifetime of things to say to each other but can't quite bring themselves to do it. The pricey restaurants they eat at and the lavish hotel suite they return to are far too quiet. Music would be a balm, an escape, but, as with the life savings they put down on the roulette wheel, their fate is out of their hands. Like the gamblers and daredevils drawn to Niagara, they're at the mercy of forces greater than themselves--in their case the twin mysteries of Love and Time. And maybe that's why there's so little music in The Odds: because there's so much silence.
Stewart O'Nan and The Odds: A Love Story links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists