Thursday, June 14, 2012

book review: Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

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
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Last Night at the Lobster from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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21 comments:

  1. It is interesting to know you met your husband whilst working in a restaurant! I've never worked in a restaurant, but I do love going to them! This does sound like a good topic, but I'm not sure how interesting a single day could be. I want to read some O'Nan, but I think I'll leave this one for now and start with one of his others,

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    1. Jackie, I think I'm going to read Wish You Were Here next. I'm curious how it will compare to the two I've read.

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  2. I read this some time ago and enjoyed it, actually I've enjoyed everything I've read by him --some a bit more than others.

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    1. Diane, I feel the same way. I think O'Nan is an author I will always enjoy, but some of his books will be better reads for me than others. From my limited experience with him, his books seem to be quite different from one another!

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  3. Oh, god, this sounds grimly hilarious! I waitressed for a Japanese restaurant in a small Pittsburgh suburb and that alone was an eye-opening experience -- I can't imagine the awesome/horror of working in a huge chain. I will have to pick this one up -- O'Nan is on my TBR anyway!

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    1. Audra, I can't wait to hear your thoughts!

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  4. I agree, it could have been longer. Most days in a restaurant are like a blip of time but this was the LAST day. And last days are usually drawn out and painful. LOL.

    I will never forget my last day at Marie Callendar's. I could not wait to ditch that lame bib apron that made me look like Holly Hobby.

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    1. Ti, you crack me up! Thanks for pushing me to read this one sooner rather than later.

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  5. I never worked in a restaurant, but my sister did and her stories were always hilarious (and sadly disturbing at times). I will absolutely read this because O'Nan is a favorite of mine.

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    1. Brooke, I can't wait to hear your thoughts. I'm eager to read more O'Nan too!

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  6. Hmm, I had thought this would be by second try by him but now I'm not so sure.

    My husband and I worked in the restaurants too! For me about five years but a little longer for him, and we DID work at Red Lobster, LOL. (My hubby is still with Darden actually at the corporate office now). So it might be fun to relate to the book, but I'm not sure since you didn't love it, though 4 out of 5 is still good, lol.

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    1. Jenny, I would love to hear your thoughts as a Red Lobster insider! It was good, but the more I thought about it after I finished, the more I kept wishing it were something somewhat different. It is good, though.

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  7. 150 is a tough page number--I often have a tough time with novellas as they either seem more suited to short stories or novels. But if done well...

    The only "restaurant" I worked at was Sonic (as a car-hop in college). I'm sure mine was a very different experience and thankfully I can't remember my last day. Ha!

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    1. Trish, I agree. I think it's hard to come in at less than 200, and I'm a fan of short novels!

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  8. I just picked up The Odds earlier today at my public library, on a complete whim. Now I'm glad I did!

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    1. Jenny, I really enjoyed The Odds. Hope you do too--how fortuitous!

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  9. I liked this one a lot - the drama and meaning in such a small little slice of life. I'm generally an O'Nan fan, though I liked this one more than

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    1. Gayle, I'm definitely an O'Nan fan too. I'll add Songs for the Missing to my list too.

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  10. Ooops. Liked it more than Songs for the Missing.

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  11. Ti is making me read more O'Nan too (despite me not really liking The Odds too much). I'm glad to hear he got the details right. I'd read this just for the restaurant info.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!