Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster - Stewart O'Nan It would be easy to slight this novel--novella really; I read its 146 pages in less than two hours. The style was described as spare in reviews and its emotions are understated and it deals with ordinary people on an ordinary day where nothing extraordinary happens. It's four shopping days before Christmas and a Red Lobster restaurant at a New England mall is closing. At the start of the novel its manager, Manny DeLeon, is opening up for the last shift. Through the day he deals with difficult customers, even more difficult employees, and an impending blizzard. That's it. But O'Nan really is brilliant in his little character sketches of the people who come through the doors of the restaurant. And even if his prose could be called spare, it's not lacking in the punctilious detail, from the yellow bands on the lobsters in the tank to the cheap toilet paper, bringing the place sharply to the eye. It's elegiac in tone but never sentimental, melancholy and bittersweet with more than a touch of humor, while the present tense lends both immediacy and lyricism. If O'Nan never worked in a restaurant, he nevertheless evidently did his homework, and serves up a slice of working class life and depicts well what it feels like to work with a group of people--the loyalties, betrayals, resentments, rivalries. I only read one O'Nan novel before this, A Prayer for the Dying, and it's hard to think of a novel more different. It was set in the American West right after the Civil War during an epidemic. It doesn't have any element of the supernatural yet won the International Horror Guild Awards for Best Novel in 2000. That novel was gruesome and grim--and a stunner. This is a much more quiet, gentle story. I'd say the only thing they have in common is the restraint in language and emotions, and in both novels that's extremely effective. I'm impressed by this author's range. I'll definitely be reading him again.