LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER by Stewart O’Nan
Stewart O’Nan’s acclaimed novella LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER is a worthy quickie. The slim volume covers the last day of business at a Red Lobster in a working class neighborhood in Connecticut, experienced through the consciousness of Manny Deleon, the branch’s valorous manager. During this emotionally tough day Manny is forced to reckon with an insubordinate staff, his residual romantic feelings for one of the waitresses and what to do about his pregnant girlfriend back at home.
The best part of this book is its emotional resonance. Manny and his staff are placed in the precarious position of how to act when no longer enticed with the reward of retaining a good job. While the great many of his employees either leave, vandalize or steal, a core few stick the day out, honorably, but with some reluctance. At the same time, Manny must deal with Jacquie, his former girlfriend-on-the-side who appears to have gotten an abortion at some point during the relationship and is now going strong again with her boyfriend. Manny doesn’t want to let her go, but in the end, realizes that practically speaking, he must. Leaving their relationship behind leaves as strong of an imprint on Manny’s psyche as does the closing of what has become “his” Red Lobster.
While LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER is engaging for many reasons, it also has its flaws. My greatest concern is the style. O’Nan has been dubbed “the bard of the working class,” a comment I would certainly support, but ultimately, the buoyant, conversational tone was not to my taste. O’Nan allows his characters to act true to form, however, the style only detracted from the weight of Manny’s plight.
I will say, though, that the style was partially saved by the flawless characterization of Manny. While some of the supporting cast were one-dimensional, Manny shines as the leading book’s leading man. Manny Deleon is a complete character, believably wrought with motives, feelings and a code of honor.
In all, LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER is a good, light read.