Thursday, December 17, 2009

REVIEW: Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan

Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan. Published 2007 by Viking. Literary Fiction.

Last Night at the Lobster is a short, quiet novel about a man named Manny, the manager at a Red Lobster restaurant in a down-at-heels New England mall. A few days before Christmas, its corporate masters have decided to close the restaurant, but before they close Manny and his crew have to get through one last day.

Author Stewart O'Nan creates a sweet, poignant and very real story. Manny wants to do right by his people and his family as Christmas approaches and he thinks about moving on to his next restaurant, another nearby chain, and settling his relationships both personal and professional at this one. There's drama in the kitchen and on the floor; one of the waitresses is a former lover; his current girlfriend is pregnant and then there's the shopping to do, too.

I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of the kind of realistic fiction that O'Nan tends to write (I found his more recent Songs for the Missing sort of unsatisfying as well). I like to read for escapism, and while I appreciate the empathy and respect he shows for his characters, Last Night at the Lobster is a little too close to real life for me. Some readers will enjoy the realism more than I did; some may also like it as a novel about the feelings that can come up around the Christmas holiday or as a novel about restaurant life. I enjoyed the slight dramatic tension and comedy around the antics of customers and staff and the poignancy of turning off those lights for the last time but for me Last Night is more a book to appreciate quietly and less a book to love enthusiastically. O'Nan is a fine writer but this book just wasn't a favorite.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review by the publisher.