Valentine's Day: Three new love stories

Just in time for Valentine's Day, three couples risk it all on a chance for a new life in this week's fiction roundup.

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1. 'The Odds,' by Stewart O'Nan

You have a better chance of surviving going over Niagara Falls in a barrel than winning big at a casino. Nonetheless, the Fowlers of Cleveland are going to try.

Thirty years into their marriage, Art and Marion are spending a weekend at Niagara in The Odds (Penguin Group, 192 pp.), Stewart O'Nan's bittersweet romance for a wobbly economy. It's not really a second honeymoon (although Art, ever a romantic, has hopes). Failing a miracle, the Fowlers are filing for divorce on Monday.

They can't afford the vacation – at this point, they can't afford McDonald's. Both of them have been laid off, the recession ravaged their retirement accounts, and their house has been on the market for a year with no takers.

“Even when they didn't spend anything, the money was draining away,” Art, keeper of the checkbook, notes.

The remains of their life savings are traveling with them in a duffle bag. Art, you see, has read about “a system” for roulette. “They could barely discuss the plan between themselves, as if, exposed to light and air, it might evaporate,” O'Nan writes.

Since the whole working-hard-and-saving-for-decades-to-buy-your-dream-home scheme turned out so dreadfully, Art feels like they've got nothing left to lose. Marion is going along out of guilt. (She's looking forward to Monday and her new life as a single woman.) In the meantime, Art has determined that they're going to enjoy the hotel suite, the breakfast buffet, a winter carriage ride, the wax museum, and a Heart concert. Marion has determined to grit her teeth and get through the weekend.

Each chapter heading features odds related to the plot: “Odds of surviving going over the Falls in a barrel: 1 in 3,” “Odds of a US citizen filing for bankruptcy: 1 in 17,” and “Odds of Heart playing 'Crazy on You' in concert: 1 in 1.

O'Nan does a wonderful job of crawling inside the heads of his weary, compromised lovers as they try to determine if the last 30 years are worth saving.

“The Odds” is a comedy, but a rueful one that anyone who's ever stayed up late wondering how to pay the bills or if a marriage was worth saving will recognize.

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