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Last Night at the Lobster (O'Nan) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
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. There is a powerful dignity to Manny's proud desire to do hard, productive work and contribute something of value to the people with whom he lives and toils. But O'Nan is also a bitter realist. So when the Lobster closes, Manny doesn't re-examine his relationship with Deena or ponder a new, more fulfilling career. He goes to work at Olive Garden.
Nathaniel Rich - New York Times


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


O'Nan's tenth novel (after The Good Wife) demonstrates once again why the author is known as the "bard of the working class." It's December 20, closing day for the New Britain, CT, Red Lobster restaurant, abandoned by headquarters owing to mediocre sales. Manager Manny De Leo had to let most of his employees go — only five can transfer with him to the Olive Garden — and is counting on the good will of a few to run the place. As he opens, we hear in intimate detail about routine tasks (changing the oil in the Frialator) and tacky decorations (the shellacked marlin on the wall). Manny will miss it; it's his shop, and he takes pride in it. He'll also miss Jacquie, the waitress with whom he had a brief, intense affair. As snow falls, Manny handles the regulars, Christmas parties, the mall crowd, and his small crew with aplomb, constantly aware of his losses. This slice-of-life novel is funny, poignant, and exquisitely rendered. Strongly recommended for all fiction collections.
Library Journal


A rueful mood piece from prolific, eclectic O'Nan (The Good Wife, 2005, etc.) about the closing of a chain restaurant. On a snowy morning just a few days before Christmas, general manager Manny DeLeon opens the Red Lobster in New Britain, Conn., for the last time. Corporate ownership is closing this branch near a dying mall, and though Manny is moving to the Olive Garden in Bristol (with a demotion to assistant manager), he can take only four people with him. Unsurprisingly, most of the understandably pissed-off, soon-to-be-unemployed workers don't bother to show for the last shift. O'Nan paints a vivid picture of the world of minimum-wage labor, where people have little incentive to be responsible or reliable. Manny is both, scrambling to keep the restaurant running smoothly in the middle of a blizzard, even though it's the last day and no one cares but him. Personally, he's less upright. He doesn't want to marry his pregnant girlfriend Deena and still carries a torch for Jacquie, a waitress who's refused to come to the Olive Garden because their affair is over. There's hardly any plot here, just the frantic rush to serve lunch — O'Nan's depiction of the complex organization of meal preparation and service is the best since Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential — and the long wait through a sparsely populated dinner to shut the place down forever. Customers from hell and surly staff interact in a dance of clashing personalities that would be a marvelous comedy of manners if the overall tone weren't so sad. In his mid-30s, Manny is plagued by regret over Jacquie and not terribly optimistic about his future. O'Nan hews to a neglected literary tradition by focusing his sympathetic attentionon people with few options. He offers no political message, merely the reminder that blue-collar lives are as charged with moral quandaries and professional difficulties as those of their better-dressed, more affluent fellow Americans. Very low-key, but haunting and quietly provocative.
Kirkus Reviews




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