O'Nan, Stewart LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER Viking (Adult FICTION) $19.95 Nov. 5, 2007 ISBN: 978-0-670-01827-7
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 attention on 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.