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.
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