Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Review: Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
3 stars

Reasons for reading: had read good things about it; Realistic fiction for the Genre Challenge; Time of day title for the What's in a Name? Challenge II

Description: "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."

First line: "Mall traffic on a winter's day, stalled."

My thoughts: This was an interesting little book. It definitely met the challenge requirement for realistic fiction. O'Nan quotes a poem at the beginning of the novel that ends with the line "All the vatos never in a poem" and that's what Manny is - a regular guy who would never normally be the subject of either poetry or fiction. He's just an ordinary guy trying to do his ordinary job while trying to keep his personal life out of it (hard to do when his ex is one of his waitresses). The story is particularly realistic for this year of economic crisis, given that the Red Lobster is closing down and most of the staff are losing their jobs.

The novel takes place over the course of one day, the last night at the Lobster before it closes and Manny and a handful of his staff have to go and work at an Olive Garden. Most of the staff have refused to come in because they're ticked off that Manny isn't taking them to the pasta joint and a bad snowstorm makes things even worse. But Manny is, in his own workaday world way, a hero - he tries to placate the feuding kitchen staff, he's kind to the boy with special needs who is, in many ways, his best employee, and he tries very hard to keep the walkways clear of snow, even though there are no customers. He gives the Lobster his full managerial best until the last moment, even though headquarters has barely spared a thought for his little family of mostly misfits.

The verdict: A quick read with some poetic moments. I think it would be a great read for anyone who has worked in a a restaurant, particularly as a manager.

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