Review: Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster
By Stewart O’Nan
(Penguin (Non-Classics), Paperback, 9780143114420, October 2008, 160pp.)

The Short of It:

O’Nan’s realistic take on the working class is as impressive as it is simple. He knows his characters and tells it like it is.

The Rest of It:

Manny is the general manager of a Red Lobster on its last day of business. Located in a rundown, New England mall…the “Lobster” hasn’t performed as well as corporate would have liked, so it’s being shutdown. Only three of the employees have been transferred to a local Olive Garden, the rest have been laid off and they all come together on this last night of business during one of the worst storms of the year.

I think true readers know how difficult it is to take every day situations and turn them into a story. And when I say “everyday” situations, I am talking about an average day at work or at home where nothing truly remarkable happens. O’Nan is a master of doing just that. Here, he captures the last day of work for these people and he does it with such finesse, that it’s hard for me to even pick out any one thing that stood out. It’s really the sum of its parts that makes this book so impressive.

Not a lot happens. You need to know this, but on this last night of work with employees who have just been laid off and a few who have been given a job elsewhere, one can only imagine how horrible a night it will be and then add to that the worst storm of the year? The fact that these people are held captive within these four walls just adds to the tension. Through it all, Manny is the stoic manager. Loyal to the company and dedicated to his employees and customers, he does the best he can do under the circumstances and what he experiences, is what anyone in the restaurant business has experienced before (feuding kitchen help, server drama, booze pilfering bartenders and difficult customers). Oh, and let’s not forget the all-you-can-eat shrimp when supplies are at a all-time low.

I’ll be the first to admit that while reading this book, I could not help but recall my days as a server for Marie Callender’s. OMG, was it horrible! Some people are good at serving. I am not. As a second job it was okay, but had that been my main bread and butter I would have starved. That, I know! O’Nan must have been in the restaurant business at some point in his career because he nailed life at a chain restaurant right down to the drinks between rushes! I’m telling you, it could not have been any more real for me.

That said, this book is super short and wonderful in subtle ways but those of you looking for more of a plot might find this one lacking. I, however, thought it was wonderful even though it did remind me of my horrible days as a server.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Emily Alone

Emily Alone

Emily Alone
By Stewart O’Nan
(Penguin (Non-Classics), Paperback, 9780143120490, December 2011, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

A wonderful, poignant follow-up to Wish You Were Here.

The Rest of It:

When I read Wish You Were Here back in March, I expected to love the writing because so many have gushed about O’Nan’s work, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with this family and that is exactly what I did. The surprise here is that they aren’t all that lovable! There is some dysfunction and of course drama with the oldest adult children, but they are painted with a firm brush and so real, I felt as if I could easily pass one of them on the street. Wish had them all sharing a cabin by the lake over summer vacation. Emily Alone is Emily Maxwell, back home, a few years older and well…alone.

This is by far the more challenging of the two to write. It had to be! With the lake as a backdrop in Wish, and all those kids keeping everyone busy, there was a lot to write about and it took time to know each of the characters. In this book, Emily is at home, doing what she does every day which includes talking to her dog Rufus, getting the mail, and reading her book. She frets about her car’s dead battery, going out in the rain and spends her day adding items to a list that continues to remind her that her days are numbered. Although in perfect health, she goes through the year thinking that is may be her last. As an elderly widow, it certainly could be.

Technically, Emily has the company of her sister-in-law Arlene to spend her days with, but Arlene’s health is beginning to show signs of failure and all of their friends are slowly dying off. What Emily lives for, is time with her family. Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays which become even more important to her as the years pass, and this particular year is no exception. She still remembers her husband fondly. His presence is still felt in the house, but Emily knows that soon, she will be with him whether she likes it or not.

As I was reading, I found myself thinking about my own mortality and what family means to me and how so often I go through the day not really feeling any particular way and how the days just run together. Not Emily. For her, as mundane as her day may sound, it all means something to her. Each day has importance and that’s an important reminder for anyone.

How is it that O’Nan can center an entire book around normal, day-to-day activities and still make it thought-provoking, poignant and interesting to read? Seriously, the man amazes me. This is absolutely a “quiet” sort of book. There are no huge plot points to shake things up but there is humor, genuine angst and a fondness for these characters that is surprising as much as it is welcoming.

Emily Alone was a real treat. I have Last Night at the Lobster from the library so I’m sure I will dive into that this weekend.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here
By Stewart O’Nan
(Grove Press, Paperback, 9780802139894, April 2003, 528pp.)

The Short of It:

A lovely, heartwarming story about love, loss and what it means to be a family. Easily, one of my favorite books ever.

The Rest of It:

I honestly don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about this one. I read it so long ago, and yet there was a little piece of me that just wanted to let my mind wander this way and that after finishing it. It’s THAT kind of book. The kind you curl up with and linger over. I really didn’t want it to end. Ever.

But… it did. I wanted to cry when it ended. Not because the story is particularly sad but because I knew I was going to miss these characters dearly. And I do miss them.

After the death of her husband Henry, Emily Maxwell gathers the family for one last hurrah at the family’s cottage on Lake Chautauqua. The cottage has been sold and the task at hand is to enjoy one more pristine summer, and to decide who get’s what as far as its contents.

Gathered together are Emily’s son and daughter. Both of whom have their own families and are dealing with personal issues of their own, her sister-in-law, who also misses Henry dearly and Emily’s aging dog, Rufus. With the adults and kids all trying to get along and a daughter-in-law who doesn’t always see things Emily’s way, the week drags out until it’s inevitable conclusion.

O’Nan’s writing is somewhat magical in this story. He has a knack for taking everyday tasks and making them seem glorious. As this family’s week plays out, I often felt as if I was right there with them, cooking burgers or tubing at the lake. Anyone who has ever taken a family vacation will attest to the accuracy of everything in this novel. The sights and smells (think musty cabin, cluttered garage, sulphurous water) and the overall boredom of the children as the adults get to dictate what they do on any given day.

But tucked within the folds, you’ll find sadness and it will tug at your heart. How do you say goodbye to a place that holds so many memories? Things that bothered you before, like ant infestations, are suddenly precious in the way that lost things are. It’s impossible to fathom and through it all, you have the continuous ebb and flow of everything else around you.

Although long, I adored this book for its realistic depiction of family and although all of the characters had their quirks, I loved them and wanted the best for them and could not stop thinking about them after closing its cover.

The good thing? Is that there is a sequel to this book. Emily Alone continues on with Emily, as she lives alone and goes through the day-to-day of being… well…Emily. I can’t wait to visit her again!

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Odds

The Odds

The Odds
By Stewart O’Nan
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670023165, January 19, 2012, 192pp.)

The Short of It:

A brutally honest look at a marriage in crisis.

The Rest of It:

In all my years as a reader, I’ve never read an O’Nan novel. Boy, have I been missing out.

Art and Marion Fowler ditch their soon-to-be foreclosed home for Niagara Falls, hoping to recoup enough money to save their home and their marriage.  The odds are against them, in more ways than one but as they rent the “bridal” suite for one last Valentine’s hurrah, one remains hopeful where the other has totally and utterly given up hope.

From the very first page, it’s clear that Marion is going along with Art’s plan as a way to humor him, or perhaps…she feels obligated to give it one last shot just so she can say that she tried everything in her power to make it work.  Regardless, what she is is a broken woman at the end of her rope, hoping to close this chapter so she can move on to the next stage of her life. She’s not entirely convinced that gambling can save them, but she gives it a go for Art’s sake.

Art however, is the opposite. Inside, he knows that the marriage is coming to a close but he’s not ready to throw in the towel. Not quite yet. He’s optimistic to a fault but somehow, you can’t hold that against him. Jobless and wanting nothing more than to provide for his family, he sees this trip as a solution to their problems. Additionally, he has decided to ask Marion to marry him all over again. To start fresh, even if they can never go back to the life they knew so well.

Since the odds of recouping what they need to save the house are slim to none, they continue to squander money by way of their maxed-out credit card, living it up until they are basically told that they no longer can.  Fine dinners, champagne and visiting all of the tourist traps that looked much more appealing the first time around. It’s heartbreaking, really.

But as sad and heartbreaking as so much of it was, I adored it. This story is all about second chances and when O’Nan goes into the heads of these characters, he must come out exhausted because these characters are complex characters with real worries and pressures. Ink on paper one second, living and breathing creatures the next. Amazing.

I can’t compare this book to his others since this was my first experience with O’Nan, but if the character development in his other books is anything like it was here, then I will be reading more of his books in the near future.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Net Galley.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 509 other followers