Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

February 11, 2013

Plot summary (from the publisher): The Red Lobster perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall hasn’t been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift with a near-mutinous staff. All the while, he’s wondering how to handle the waitress he’s still in love with, what to do about his pregnant girlfriend, and where to find the present that will make everything better.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I really enjoyed O’Nan’s writing style. His descriptions were so vivid that I could easily picture everything that was happening despite the fact that I’ve never worked in a restaurant before. I think it was largely due to O’Nan’s way with words that this book, ostensibly about nothing, could be so engrossing and compelling.
  • The story worked as a “slice of life” vignette. It was little more than an ordinary day for most of the characters and was filled with the minor struggles and dramas that people face all the time. In this way the story was very relatable.
  • I liked Manny a lot. I liked that he was so conscientious about his job despite the fact that it was the very last shift at the restaurant and no one would really know or care if SOP was abandoned. His insistence on doing everything the right way at the Lobster provided an interesting contrast to his inner turmoil regarding his pregnant girlfriend and Jacquie, the waitress he had an affair with and still loves. In his private life, Manny is more than willing to do the wrong thing.

Disliked:

  • There were a few too many characters to keep track of and too little time to develop them in this short piece.
  • I was hoping for more of a payoff at the end. I know I just said I liked the “slice of life” aspect of the book, but this was still a work of fiction. Even though I know “real” problems aren’t wrapped up in a tidy little bow at the end of each day in “real life”, as a reader it’s not out of line to expect an actual conclusion.

Rating:

Last Night at the Lobster was my first Stewart O’Nan book, but it certainly won’t be my last. This piece had an interesting hook, terrific writing, and a relatable protagonist, all of which combined to make it a highly engrossing read. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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