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.

14 comments:

Bibliolatrist said...

I'm totally with you on Songs for the Missing, and I'm disappointed to hear Last Night at the Lobster is more of the same. Interesting premise, not so interesting execution.

Serena said...

I haven't read any of this author's work. But it sounds like an interesting idea for a story. I may have to check this book out at a later time.

Marie said...

Bibliolatrist, Yeah, I was too. At least it's short. and it's not horrible- just dull.

Literary Feline said...

This is one I have been wanting to read for some time now. I hadn't realized it was set around Christmas time. I wonder if I'll have time to fit it in this year . . .

I am sorry you weren't overly pleased with it, Marie, but I do understand. It'll be interesting to see what I think once I get the chance to read it.

bermudaonion said...

I do enjoy realism in my fiction, so this sounds interesting to me.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

For Songs of the Missing, I had a kind of weird reaction - I really liked some of it, and really disliked some of it! However, it is because of that very book that to this day, I find myself whiling away late nights playing TextTwist on the computer! (the younger sister did that, and I wanted to see what it was like, and I found it mildly diverting when you're too tired to do anything else!)

JoAnn said...

O'Nan is an author I keep meaning to read, especially since a couple of my book group friends rave about him. I also like realism in fiction, so this may be a good fit...but can certainly understand why it's not for everyone!

Lesley said...

I am reading this one right now, and honestly, it's not doing anything for me at all. I've picked it up and put it down several times and am still only on page 30. I am not sure if I'll finish it or read anything further by him.

bookmagic said...

I got this from the library recently and I liked it a lot. If it was longer it may have dragged but I thought it was a nice novella. I enjoyed Snow Angels and picked up Songs from the library today. It does depend what mood I'm in though, sometimes I don't want realism

agoodstoppingpoint said...

I *love* Stewart O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying, which is a creepy, affecting masterpiece, but I haven't found the rest of his work to match the high quality of that novel. His non-fiction account, The Circus Fire, was fine and Snow Angels was all right. However, I have started and then abandoned: The Good Wife, The Night Country and The Names of the Dead. I think I might stick to re-reading A Prayer for the Dying. I have already read it three times, I think.

- Christy

the heart is a lonely reader said...

Stewart O'Nan is now a local to the area, so he was in not too long ago for a signing and discussion. He had a lot of interesting things to say about this book in particular, but I have to agree with your verdict, Marie. Not bad, just a bit dull, and certainly not his best.

Zibilee said...

I have been on the fence about this book, and after reading your review I think I might pass on this one. Like you, I tend to prefer stories that aren't so closely intertwined with the realities of everyday life, so the fact that this book deals with much of the ho-hum surrounding working at a restaurant isn't really all that compelling to me. Very insightful review.

Beth F said...

I've been dying to read O'Nan. I think his books would be perfect for me.

S. Krishna said...

I didn't really like Songs for the Missing, so I might skip Last Night at the Lobster. Thanks for the review!