Stewart O’Nan: Everyday People

Brendan here again. My first attempt to read Stewart O’Nan‘s Everyday People was shortly after I moved to the U.S. from a rural European community, and I guess I just wasn’t ready then for the African-American voices through which this story is told. A decade in America has widened my view and I recently devoured the Pittsburgh-set novel. Everyday People centers on the turbulent lives of the Tolbert Family.

Everyday People is formulated similarly to another favorite of mine, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, with each chapter capturing a different voice in the story, a different perspective.

Crest Tolbert is adjusting to life after being paralyzed from the waist down. His brother, Eugene, found Jesus in prison and is determined to save the lives of his gang-member friends. Their father, Harold, has given up a lover in an attempt to recommit to his family, but his wife has noticed the distance between them.

Like The Interrupters, Everyday People documents a community in crisis. The characters are vividly realized and the story is heartbreaking – but, as Stewart O’Nan has repeatedly demonstrated, well-written heartbreaking stories can be rewarding and uplifting.


Stewart O’Nan: The Odds

Stewart O’Nan has become a favorite author in the Muruch household. I (Vic) first fell for his writing in 1994 when his stark and mesmerizing debut novel, Snow Angels, was released, and Brendan loves O’Nan’s 2007 novel Last Night at the Lobster enough to re-read it every winter. We both recently read (and loved) O’Nan’s new book, The Odds: A Love Story, within a few days. The novel follows a middle-aged American couple on the brink of bankruptcy and divorce on their troubled second honeymoon in Niagara Falls. But all is not what it seems. The true motive for the journey and real causes of their disintegrating romance are slowly revealed through each spouse’s thoughts and actions during their two turbulent days at the falls.

The final weekend of their marriage hounded by insolvency, indecision, and, stupidly, half secretly, in the never-distant past ruled by memory, infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler fled the country. North, to Canada.

The marital plot and short timespan of The Odds reminded me a bit of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach (one of my Best Books of the Decade). The delicate mix of resigned affection and tension born of unspoken frustrations in particular make O’Nan’s Art and Marion seem to be the aged counterparts to McEwan’s newlyweds Edward and Florence.

Stewart O’Nan’s prose and character insights are so heartfelt, intimate and exquisitely human that even his saddest moments hold a small ray of hope. The Odds is a very quick, enjoyable, beautifully written read.