The backstory: After reading and enjoying the first Stewart O'Nan novel I read, The Odds: A Love Story (my review), I knew I wanted to read more of his work. When Ti at Book Chatter reviewed this one, it jumped to the top of my pile.
The basics: It's the last night this Red Lobster next to a mall in Connecticut will be open. Christmas is a few days away, it's snowing heavily, and only five of the employees are coming with Manny, the general manager, as he transitions to assistant manager at the Olive Garden in nearby Bristol.
My thoughts: I spent five years working full-time in restaurants and nearly as many working part-time in restaurants. Mr. Nomadreader and I met while we working at the same restaurant (Murphy's, a winebar in Atlanta for those who are interested.) During my too-long stint in the corporate chain restaurant world, I managed to hold just about every job in the restaurant except, blessedly, the salad bar attendant. I didn't work in the Darden consortium of restaurants like the characters in this novella, but the similarities with my years at Ruby Tuesday are quite similar. (My favorite absurd corporate restaurant tidbit: at Ruby Tuesday, the hosts are known as SPGs--Smiling People Greeters.) O'Nan did a wonderful job of presenting the minutiae of a day in the life of a restaurant. The inner workings of restaurants are fascinating, and I reveled in O'Nan's detail of it.
Despite the authenticity of this novel, I was left wanting more. At 150 pages, it felt either too long or too short. As a short story from the perspective of Manny, it was a bit long. As a novel of a last day at the restaurant, it was too short and didn't include enough of the other characters. Last Night at the Lobster is good, but I think it could have been great. I wish O'Nan would have pushed it further because as fascinating as the story was, the narrator himself was pretty dull. I wish he would have opted to tell the tale through multiple narrators or include more time.
The verdict: Last Night at the Lobster is a fascinating glimpse into one day in the life of a corporate restaurant and its staff. O'Nan nails the details of the business, but by limiting the story to a single day, it's more of a snapshot and observation of the life than a fully developed character study.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 150 pages
Publication date: November 1, 2007
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