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.

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23 thoughts on “Review: Last Night at the Lobster”

  1. I can relate too! I actually served at Red Lobster for a while… and I did work at a different restaurant before that that closed down and we were all out of jobs… I might try this when if/when I try O’Nan again.

  2. I was also a server, so this book entices me because you say that O’Nan gets it right. I don’t really mind books that don’t have a spectacular plot, especially when the details are spot on. I have never read anything by O’Nan, but this is going to be the first one I try.

    I also haven’t forgotten to respond to your email about Mantel. I have been super swamped, but should be able to write back today!

    1. It WAS light!

      I am home for a bit this morning because I have to take the girl to the dentist. I am supposed to go to work after but we’ll see how she does. She usually freaks out from the numbness. Have to go back on Wed too. Joy!

  3. I read this one years ago, but remember enjoying it. You are right about the plot though, and I think if it had been as long as a traditional novel the lack of action would have become tiring. The little details O’Nan includes are what make this book a winner.

  4. I have waited on people too and it SUCKS! Makes you appreciate other jobs, that is the positive side. I’m just not sure if this is something I should read. I know everyone loves this guy, but the two I’ve read were not my favorites. I have heard this is his best.

  5. I’ve never been a server, which is probably a good thing – I don’t think I would have been very good at it! I’m not normally into books about every day life but since I recently read something totally outside my norm and absolutely loved it, I’m ready to try other things outside my comfort reading zone.

  6. From the one book I read of his, I imagine that his speciality is getting all the little details and moments in “real life” captured just right. And if I lived near a Red Lobster, it would never go out of business because I am obsessed with their Cheddar biscuits!

  7. This is another one of his that I must read!! I loved being a server back in the day, always went home with money in my pocket!

    1. You must have been a good server! I went home with money only because they pitied me! They would ask me…”So, you’re going to college?” Because I couldn’t possibly be making a living at what I was doing. LOL.

  8. I have yet to read any of O’Nan’s books but your reviews have made me a fan. I find it thrilling to know his books are out there waiting for me and I have them to look forward to. I have no doubt I will like O’Nan’s books. I’m looking forward to experiencing his writing and how he uses words, describes things…

    It doesn’t always matter for me if a book doesn’t have a solid or discernible plot. I’m completely intrigued to read about the last night of work at the Lobster. I’d imagine there’s some tension underlying everything,a little anger, a lot of awkwardness and sadness… I enjoy reading slices of real life like this. At 160 pgs it sounds perfect for a summer afternoon or evening.

  9. You would think I could have figured out (or at least guessed) that this novel was about working in a restaurant from its title, right? Well, I didn’t. Now that I know, I must find a copy. I still haven’t read another O’Nan after loving The Odds, and I spent years waiting tables (and I totally agree some people are good at it and some aren’t; I feel blessed I was good enough to make my living and have the freedom to travel for so many years). I cannot wait.

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