Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan








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I didn’t expect to find much to like in Stewart O’Nan’s novel, Last Night at the Lobster. What, I thought, would cause me to have any interest or empathy with a novel about a Red Lobster restaurant’s last night before it closed down. Since I enjoyed earlier books from O’Nan, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, it’s a pretty short novel. To my surprise, not only did I enjoy Last Night at the Lobster, I found that I had much in common with the protagonist, Manny DeLeon, the manager. Manny is a good corporate citizen, who does what’s expected of him, and works as hard as he can to satisfy customers. This novel captures much about what it means to do any kind of work well. It also reveals how managers balance their own needs and their lives with the challenges of employees with issues. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of the chapter titled, “Which Nobody Can Deny,” pp. 30-32:

They come in pairs and threesomes and the rare four­some, mostly wives and young mothers this time of day, escapees from the mall. They come from West Hartford and Farmington and Simsbury and other suburbs Man­ny's only driven through summers on his way to Barkhamsted Reservoir, and driven carefully, wary of gung-ho cops. Their SUVs chew through the snow and plug the parking spots, for one day justifying their pricey four-wheel drive. They track in clumps of snow, pausing to stomp and read the specials on the chalkboard, then follow Kendra to their booths, sliding in, dumping bags and gloves and jackets, relieved to sit down and gather themselves and compare their loot. They warm their hands over the single cupped tea light, ignoring Manny as he cruises through. They want their waitress. They want their lunches so they can get back out there and get their shopping done.

In the corner, Mr. Kashynski hunches over the splayed-out sports section with his coffee, occasionally picking at his tilapia, his plate pushed to the side. Roz sometimes bitches that he's hogging one of her four-tops, but on slow days she's grateful to have him. Plus he doesn't run her the way the shoppers do, asking for waters all around and more biscuits for the kids, sending her to check with Ty to see if the scallops are frozen or if there's any clam juice in the seafood stuffing.

Manny drops by to say hey, and Mr. K. taps an article with a liver-spotted hand. "We almost lost to Weaver. Weaver! I don't know what's going on over there any­more."

"It's early," Manny says, because he's heard Coach go off like this before. It's the start of the season, and though New Britain's gone through three other coaches since he retired (forced out, rumor was, over a disagreement with someone on the school board), he still gets excited this time of year. "We're still undefeated, right?"

"We haven't faced anyone yet, and we've got less than a month to get ready for Southington."

"I hear they're good," Manny sympathizes, though he's only heard it from Mr. K. himself, and can't remem­ber the details. Like any longtime acquaintances, there's a comfortable slackness to their conversations. Manny can listen to him and scan the room for trouble at the same time, like a cop writing someone a ticket. The foy­er's getting busy, with Kendra trying to greet and seat at the same time.

"What's this I hear about you guys closing down? That right?"

Officially Manny can't answer him, but his pause is a tip-off. "Where'd you hear that?"


"Not from anyone around here." Meaning Roz. "It's not a big secret, is it?"

Manny plucks the rubber band and rubs his wrist, stands with hands on hips.

"Damn," Mr. K. says. "I was hoping it wasn't true. When?"


"Jeez, I wish you'da told me. I've got a ton of coupons just sitting around at home."

"You like Italian food?"

He shrugs.

"They should be good at the Olive Garden. That's where they're sending us."

"The one in Bristol?"

"Starting Monday. Come on by, we'll take care of you." Because Manny and the survivors, being new, are scheduled for lunch all week. He hadn't considered it a good thing until now.

"I might do that," Mr. K. says.

"Do," Manny says, and nods to seal the deal, then excuses himself to help Kendra.


Stewart’s writing, as illustrated in the excerpt, makes everything at the Lobster come alive. Last Night at the Lobster is a finely written novel with the added bonus of revealing much about working life.


Steve Hopkins, January 22, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the February 2008 issue of Executive Times


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