Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Last Night at the Lobster" by Stewart O'Nan

Ever have a job where despite things like lack of a decent wage or work that seemed to make you feel like a slave in some gulag, you couldn't help but enjoy the fact that at least you were surrounded by people you enjoyed (maybe even loved)?  Last Night at the Lobster chronicles one night in the lives of a bunch of people who feel that same way, the only difference is this night in particular is their last together as a team.

We open with Manny DeLeon, the protagonist and our viewpoint through which we experience this story, getting high on a crack pipe in his car before work.  With this introduction, as well as throughout the book, we learn that Manny isn't the best role model in the world outside of his job.  On the job, is another story, as we see Manny marshall the troops and endure walk-outs, no-shows, pushy customers, lingering feelings for a mistress he once had a fling with, and his own musings on just where the Hell this last night leaves him anyway.  Not to mention, he needs to find "the perfect gift" for his pregnant girlfriend and make sure nobody's cleaning the restaurant out of important things like alcohol or food.  As if his problems weren't numerous enough.

While the book is predominantly a somber drama, it does have its slight moments of humor.  For the most part, Last Night at the Lobster is a meditative drama that makes us think about how much of our personalities are because of our job, and vice versa.  Manny has an unshakable sense of duty to "the Lobster", but yet that type of loyalty is lacking in his personal life.  It seems as if he knows how to deal with the people in the Lobster more than he knows how to deal with them outside of it.  Also, the book takes advantage of a more real time approach by using all 160 pages to explore the entire narrative through line from one character's perspective through an entire double shift.  This leads to a more intimate story, and a more personally invested one that leaves you almost sad when the ending comes.  I for one wished the story was longer:  not because I was unsatisfied, but because I wanted to spend more time with Manny.

Last Night at the Lobster is a quick read that hits emotional highs and lows over the course of several hours of work.  It wastes no pages on preliminary exposition, allowing us to pick things up as they are mentioned; which is the Cherry on the story's sundae of organic storytelling.  Overall, it is one of the most reality based books I've ever read.  There are no short cuts, no oversights, and no easy endings.  Everything is earned, and in the end it is more endearing of a story for telling us the sad, somber truth than lying to us with a cookie cutter happy ending.

1 comment:

  1. If you enjoy O'Nan, I recommend you try The Night Country. It's a lighter read, but still good: