Sunday, May 15, 2011

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

A great little novel about the last night of a Red Lobster restaurant closed because of corporate greed. I have been to this Red Lobster, despite the fact the exact location is never mentioned. It is somewhere in the snowy north, vaguely New York State.

Manny manages the doomed branch of Darden Restaurants, and December 20th is the last day it will be open for business. Typical corporate move. Five days before Christmas and most of them are losing their jobs. On the epithet page, before the half-title, O’Nan has written: “Darden Restaurants, Inc., raised its outlook and expects full year 2005 diluted earnings per share growth in the range of 22% to 27%... (” Capitalism at its finest. The restaurant makes money, but not enough to satisfy the billionaires that own Darden.

Manny has an eclectic crew, and only about half of them show up for the last day. The best workers along with two who deserve to lose their jobs. Manny had an affair with Jackie, and Roz is like his mother. Ty is the king of the kitchen. The realism of this novel is striking. O'Nan has filled it with precise details of opening and operating a chain restaurant.

The last day has plenty of typical restaurant urgencies – a party of 14 who arrives demanding a big table without any prior notice to the toddler over whom the mother has absolutely no control. I have seen that kid in many restaurants, and I hope someday I will see that same mother trying to deal with the obnoxious brat when it is a teenager. Manny is a loyal company employee, and he does his best to placate the woman.

A nifty, well-written little tale of about 150 pages. 5 stars.

--Chiron, 5/15/11

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