Sunday, May 31, 2015

New Bookworm Crush: Stewart O'Nan

My last big author obsession was Emile Zola. It's been nearly three years, so I knew I was due to fall in love again.

A couple of years ago, I read Last Night at the Lobster, a short novel by Stewart O'Nan that follows the last evening of work for employees of a Red Lobster that is closing. The novel seemed so close to real life, as if O'Nan had just shown up like Tracy Kidder and hung out and reported what he saw and heard. When I started thinking that he hadn't really done anything, I realized that he had done something. It was one of those koan moments.

Flash-forward to last week. I was browsing the county library and I found a shelfload of Stewart O'Nan novels. Wonderful! I hadn't realized that he'd written so many. He's also written something with Stephen King. Uncle Stevie! How did that information elude me for so long?

Anyway, I checked out O'Nan's 2012 novel The Odds, which is about a couple who have been married 30 years. They have both recently lost their jobs and are on the brink of bankruptcy and divorce. In a bold move, the husband proposes that they liquidate the rest of their assets, take a "second honeymoon" to a hotel/casino in Niagara Falls (Canada) and make some seriously big bets. This is one of the best novels about marriage that I have ever read.

After finishing The Odds, I went on to an earlier O'Nan offering: Everyday People (2001). This is the one I'm reading now. This novel takes place in O'Nan's native Pittsburgh and describes the lives of several acquaintances in an African-American neighborhood. I've been reading with a critical eye this time, looking for and fearing any missteps or falsity on O'Nan's part, but so far, I've not been disappointed. It's a wrenching story, full of dignity and beautifully told.

I'm not sure which novel I'm reading next, but I am sure that this is going to be my Stewart O'Nan summer. Maybe it can be yours as well.


SFP said...

I love O'Nan, but I've managed to miss both The Odds and Everyday People.

If you can, get your hands on A Prayer for the Dying. Absolutely fantastic and probably the best use of second person narration you'll ever find. I can't believe you haven't already read this, but it is definitely you're kind of book!

Bybee said...

Thanks Susan!

SFP said...

Eep. Your kind of book.

The shame! The shame!

Vasilly said...

I haven't read anything by O'Nan before. Your post makes me want to change that fast!

Unruly Reader said...

I've been intending to read his book The Circus Fire for eons now. This might be the year!