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Last Night at the Lobsterby Stewart O'Nan
Synopses & Reviews
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.
Stewart O'Nan has been called "the bard of the working class," and Last Night at the Lobster is one of his most acclaimed works to date.
"Set on the last day of business of a Connecticut Red Lobster, this touching novel by the author of Snow Angels and A Prayer for the Dying tells the story of Manny DeLeon, a conscientious, committed restaurant manager any national chain would want to keep. Instead, corporate has notified Manny that his — and Manny does think of the restaurant as his — New Britain, Conn., location is not meeting expectations and will close December 20. On top of that, he'll be assigned to a nearby Olive Garden and downgraded to assistant manager. It's a loss he tries to rationalize much as he does the loss of Jacquie, a waitress and the former not-so-secret lover he suspects means more to him than his girlfriend Deena, who is pregnant with his child. On this last night, Manny is committed to a dream of perfection, but no one and nothing seems to share his vision: a blizzard batters the area, customers are sparse, employees don't show up and Manny has a tough time finding a Christmas gift for Deena. Lunch gives way to dinner with hardly anyone stopping to eat, but Manny refuses to close early or give up hope. Small but not slight, the novel is a concise, poignant portrait of a man on the verge of losing himself." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Last Night at the Lobster' takes place during 12 hours on Dec. 20, the last day for a Red Lobster restaurant at a depressed shopping mall in New Britain, Conn. Stuart O'Nan's entire novella could probably fit on those large, laminated menu pages that entice us to 'Come See What's Fresh Today.' There is no plot here beyond the serving schedule from opening, to lunch, to dinner, to closing. It's just... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) another work day in the lives of a few people behind those sad economic headlines you skim in the newspaper. A memo from the parent company in Orlando 'regretted to inform' the manager, 35-year-old Manny DeLeon, that his restaurant is being shuttered because its numbers are down. 'While Red Lobster doesn't license franchises,' the narrator explains, 'over the years he's come to consider this one his,' but tomorrow Manny is being transferred (and demoted) to an Olive Garden nearby. He can take four of his 44 employees with him, but the rest are being laid off or have already quit, and Manny is determined — sweetly, naively — to make their last day together more meaningful than it can possibly be. Although nothing goes quite right for Manny, nothing goes particularly wrong either. The scope and emotional range of this poignant story are surprisingly narrow, as though O'Nan locked himself in a narrative box, tied one hand behind his back and then dared himself to make it engaging. The fact that he pulls it off is a testament to his precision and empathy. 'Thanks for thinking of Red Lobster,' Manny tells some disgruntled diners as they shuffle back out into a snow storm. 'But what does it mean?' he wonders to himself. 'Who, besides the people who actually work here, thinks about Red Lobster? And even they don't really think about it.' Somehow, O'Nan manages to acknowledge the irrelevancy of this place while demanding that we think about it carefully for a few hours. And why not? Red Lobster — a 'family' restaurant that promises the same decor, the same 'Endless Shrimp,' anywhere across the country — is a perfect setting in which to examine the lives of people who cook and clean and serve. The setup promises a kind of Nickel and Dimed expose of minimum-wage drudgery, the struggles of single moms without health insurance, the humiliations of sexual harassment. But there's no soap box under this novel. O'Nan just wants us to watch one day as the snow piles up outside, the customers trickle in and out, and the workers who bothered to show up go through the motion of preparing their last meals together. In his careful description of the routines of cleaning and cooking and serving, O'Nan manages to catch the subtle melody of humble labor. Manny, in particular, is a masterful portrait. 'He's right on time,' O'Nan writes, 'even now trying to lead by example, when there's no point.' To him, the Red Lobster is 'surprisingly beautiful,' a clean, well-lighted place. 'The restaurant looks warm and alive and welcoming, a place anyone would want to go. It looks like a painting, and he feels proud, as if this is his work, and in a way it is, except it's over.' But even on his last day, Manny 'wants it to be perfect.' He knows it's silly, but he can't help hoping that his customers will realize what a fine place this is. He 'wants them to say this is the best meal they've ever eaten, and the most memorable.' Passing an elderly couple's table, 'he's inordinately proud that they've both cleaned their plates.' Manny's pride would be so easy to satirize — or pity — but instead O'Nan sees the muted nobility in his devotion. And he sees Manny's weaknesses, too: his sentimentality, his softheartedness, his avoidance of confrontation. Mixed up with his sadness about the restaurant closing is Manny's reluctance to let go of an old girlfriend who works here. Once they close tonight, he won't see her again, and Manny has invested the evening with enormous romantic potential — none of which can possibly be realized. They've both moved on: She has a steady, hulking boyfriend, and there's a pregnant woman waiting for Manny at home. Yet 'he wants to make a final declaration,' O'Nan writes. '"I love you" or something equally futile — but she's already headed for the door.' Full of regret and gentle humor, 'Last Night at the Lobster' serves up the kind of delicate sadness that too often gets ruined by the slimy superiority that masquerades as sympathy for working-class people. It wouldn't take much longer to read this story than to polish off a large helping of hush puppies, but it's a far more nutritious meal. Ron Charles is a senior editor at Book World. Send e-mail to charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com." Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"A deeply moving novel about how we work, how we live, and how we get to the next day with our spirits intact. If there was ever a book that embodies what's best in us, it's Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster." Stephen King, bestselling author of Lisey's Story
"A rueful mood piece....O'Nan hews to a neglected literary tradition by focusing his sympathetic attention on people with few options....Very low-key, but haunting and quietly provocative." Kirkus Reviews
"This slice-of-life novel is funny, poignant, and exquisitely rendered. Strongly recommended." Library Journal
"[A] densely packed 146 pages with few wasted words. It's O'Nan at his most concentrated....Last Night at the Lobster doesn't have Dickens' warm and fuzzy ending, but it is a paean to those who do their job and do it well..." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Last Night at the Lobster makes beautiful sense in the span of O'Nan's writing life: It's a Zen koan of a book — Manny's life in all its integrity echoing out across a wintry mall in a Rust Belt American town." The Los Angeles Times
"The characters populating O'Nan's restaurant never leap off the page, and by the book's end, no great strides have been made, no pivotal issues resolved." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"O'Nan's empathy for his characters is one of his great gifts as a novelist, and it is an impressive achievement that Manny's misplaced affection for Red Lobster is not risible, but tragic." The New York Times Book Review
"[C]oncise, unsettling, sometimes funny....Strong fiction such as this offers not only diversion and entertainment but also the opportunity to experience life as another human being. To read Last Night at the Lobster is to take an enlightening walk in the shoes of a different kind of hero." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Stewart O'Nan excels at bringing the reader into the skin of his characters....In lesser hands, Last Night at the Lobster...would be mundane; instead, this bittersweet story sings." Denver Post
O'Nan has crafted a frank and funny yet emotionally resonant tale set within a vivid workaday world seldom seen in contemporary fiction. This work presents a poignant yet redemptive look at what a man does when he discovers that his best might not be good enough.
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.
Stewart O?Nan has been called ?the bard of the working class,? and Last Night at the Lobster is one of his most acclaimed works to date.
In the new novel from the author of Last Night at the Lobster, a middle-age couple goes all in for love at a Niagara Falls casino
Stewart O'Nan's thirteenth novel is another wildly original, bittersweet gem like his celebrated Last Night at the Lobster. Valentine's weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara Falls, desperate to recoup their losses. Jobless, with their home approaching foreclosure and their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion liquidate their savings account and book a bridal suite at the Falls' ritziest casino for a second honeymoon. While they sightsee like tourists during the day, at night they risk it all at the roulette wheel to fix their finances-and save their marriage. A tender yet honest exploration of faith, forgiveness and last chances, The Odds is a reminder that love, like life, is always a gamble.
About the Author
Stewart O'Nan is the author of ten novels, including Snow Angels and A Prayer for the Dying, as well as works of nonfiction, including the bestselling book with Stephen King on the Boston Red Sox, Faithful. Granta named him one of the twenty Best Young American Novelists in 1995.
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