Thursday, September 15, 2011

Last Night At the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

Last Night at the Lobster
by Stewart O' Nan
Viking, 2007
146 pages
source: borrowed

In a nutshell:
This novella takes a close look at The Red Lobster in New Britain, CT- employees, customers,and operation - on it's final night of business.

My thoughts:
Last Night at the Lobster is the third O'Nan novel I've read in as many weeks, and my first impulse upon finishing was to immediately begin the fourth. Once again, there is not a lot of action, but the reader really gets to know and understand the characters.

In this case, the primary focus is on the manager, Manny DeLeon. It's four days before Christmas, a snowstorm is raging, and Manny is determined to keep up appearances and finish the evening like any other....except it's not just any evening. It's the final night of operation for the Red Lobster. The location is 'underperforming' and parent company Darden has decided close down the Lobster and transfer Manny to a nearby Olive Garden, where he will be downgraded to assistant manager.

I loved the behind-the-scenes aspect of this novel. The kitchen tension, corporate guidelines, staff interactions, customer descriptions, and jack-of-all-trades manager provide the reader with insight into the chain restaurant business. O'Nan must have spent many research hours at Red Lobsters.

Last Night at the Lobster is also infused with a feeling of loss. Of course, there is the loss of the restaurant, but Manny is also mourning the recent loss of his abuela as well as his break-up with Jacquie (an employee). At the same time, he must come to terms with his current relationship and impending fatherhood.

By the way, I decided to forgo a fourth O'Nan novel and begin a group read of The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. As Amy said on twitter, "O'Nan will be waiting for you, like a good friend." I like that...

A favorite passage:
"He tramps out to the end of one wing where Dom's and Roz's cars sit in exile and works back toward the Lobster, the illusory movement of the colored string through the front doors and the glow from the windows and the candlelit faces of people eating inside all suddenly, surprisingly beautiful to him, as if he's still stoned. He rests for a moment to appreciate the vision and hears, in the hush, at a distance, the frantic whizzing of a car spinning its wheels. In the storm light, the restaurant looks warm and alive and welcoming, a place anyone would want to go. It looks like a painting, and he feels proud, as if this is his work, and in a way it is, except it's over, like him and Jacquie, lost, gone forever. Is that why he loves it so much?" page 40-41

My rating:

Bottom line:
Stewart O'Nan is fast becoming a favorite author. If you aren't familiar with his work, this little book is a perfect introduction.


  1. This sounds very quirky, I guess just because of the idea that it is the last night of operation for a Red Lobster. Not something one would normally read about but it definitely sounds good!

  2. YOu've now got me all excited about this author!!! sounds like a really cool read for sure!

  3. I've read this one as well and enjoyed it. Hard to go wrong with this author IMO.

  4. I have heard of this work before. It sounds very interesting. I admit a fondness for the bread in Red Lobster and the Popcorn shrimp. I was worked at a giant corporation that moved all of its operations across the ocean to save money and was there the last day when 1000s of people lost their jobs so I can relate to the idea of the sadness of the last day.

  5. I read the first few chapters a year ago before I had to return it to the library. Looks like I need to check it out again. But maybe I should read Emily, Alone first? I see that you rated that one highter.

  6. It just sounds so American and something I would lvoe to read!

  7. Reviewsbylola - Quirky is the perfect word! Can't imagine how O'Nan came up with an idea like this...

    Staci - I hope you get to read O'Nan soon.... this short book would be a good place to start.

    Diane - I'm beginning to think O'Nan can do no wrong, too!

    Mel u - With your experience, I think you could definitely relate to this book!

    Stacybuckeye - I thought Emily, Alone was better... more developed. It could be read by itself, but it's actually a sequel to Wish You Were Here. I think you'd appreciate it more if they were read in order.

    Vivienne - Definitely working-class characters throughout this little novel... I loved it!

  8. This is such a wonderful book, a kind, respectful look at an often-derided segment of society.

  9. Amy - Well said... I may have to buy a copy of my own!

  10. Believe it or not (but then, why wouldn't you?) I own two copies of Songs for the Missing but have yet to read it. I only own these (ok, I have no idea how I got two!) was because I *REALLY* want to read this lobster one! Good to hear that I am likely to be impressed with anything he has written.

  11. Care - How can you go wrong with Lobster in the title, right?! I'll get to Songs for the Missing eventually... have a feeling I'll be reading all of O'Nan's books before too long ;-)

  12. I love your review, as I loved the book. He really captures real life, I think.

    1. Nan - Thanks. I still have such fond memories of this book and definitely agree with you. O'Nan has a wonderful knack for portraying real people and real life. Glad you loved the book, too.


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