THE LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER by Stewart O’Nan

Book Quote:

“Two months ago Manny had forty people working for him, twenty of them full-time. Tonight when he locks the doors, all but five will lose their jobs, and one of those five—unfairly, he thinks, since he was their leader—will be himself. Monday the survivors will start at the Olive Garden in Bristol, another fifteen minutes’ commute, but better than what’s waiting for Jacqui and the rest of them. He’s spent the last few weeks polishing letters of recommendation, trying to come up with nice things to say—not hard in some cases, nearly impossible in others.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Sudheer Apte (JUL 25, 2009)

Headquarters has decided to shut down the Red Lobster restaurant in a small mall in New Britain, Connecticut. We spend its last twelve hours in it with the restaurant manager, a Latino man named Manny DeLeon, as he struggles to keep his ship afloat just one more time, in the face of an impending New England snowstorm and an unmotivated crew.

Last Night at the Lobster is a short novel, but it punches well above its weight. Its most enjoyable distinction is its minute observations of day-to-day life in the running of a typical American restaurant.

Writer Stephen King once made the observation that people seem to enjoy reading about someone else’s work. Perhaps it’s easy to imagine why one might find a few glamorous professions interesting to read about, but the manager of a small chain restaurant in a mall probably doesn’t fit the bill. And yet, in Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O’Nan is able to make Manny DeLeon’s job fascinating, and his character distinctive and ultimately tragic.

Part of the magic may be in Manny’s personal life: he drives an old “white shitbox of a Buick” which was an inheritance from his grandmother. His girlfriend is pregnant, and he’s not completely over his former girlfriend Jacqui who also works at his restaurant—or rather, the restaurant that was his until tomorrow, when it will close forever, and he will probably never meet Jacqui again. Perhaps as a consequence, he smokes cigarettes to mask the smell of dope.

But certainly, the main reason why we cannot put down this book is Manny’s nature. Conscientious and committed (he stops at every stop sign even in a deserted mall in the dead of night), Manny thinks of the restaurant as his own and looks after it. He is also quite good at his job of managing the crew: while Leron is very competent, he drinks and is unreliable, whereas little Eddie, who is handicapped, is nevertheless punctual since he is dropped off and picked up regularly by his service, and Eddie is also easier to boss around, although Manny would never admit this.

Manny’s loyalty, his proprietary pride at having looked after his restaurant, and his terrible sadness at its impending loss and the loss of most of his colleagues, are all easy to see. More surprising than the corporate machine’s treatment of this man, is just how lonely he is in feeling this way, while most of the people around him seem focused on getting their paycheck and moving on. O’Nan has written ten novels before this, and he may well have a good recipe for his plot lines, but this particular everyman character doing his job is the secret sauce in this one. Hope to see him again soon.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 89 readers
PUBLISHER: Penguin; Reprint (October 28, 2008)
REVIEWER: Sudheer Apte
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Stewart O’Nan
EXTRAS:
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Our review of:

Another good restaurant manager novel:

Another good end of job book:

Another good “drift-of-life” book:

And, finally, another good “snow” book”

Bibliography:

Nonfiction:

Movies from books:


July 25, 2009 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2009 Favorites, Contemporary, Drift-of-Life, Literary, NE & New York

One Response

  1. Judi Clark - July 25, 2009

    Sudheer, I’m so glad that you wrote a review for this book. I read LOBSTER earlier this year… after you and Poornima recommended it. Loved it. Worthy of a re-read for sure.

    I hadn’t realized that the movie SNOW ANGELS was based on one of his books. Now that I know this, I can see his fingerprint on it. Have you seen this movie? I recommend it…

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