Stewart O'Nan makes the work-a-day world a compelling place in his bijou of a novel, Last Night at the Lobster. This keen-eyed view of life in a blue collar begins at the ending, as "The Lobster," a failing Red Lobster restaurant in working class New Britain, Connecticut, prepares for a final day serving up chain eatery seafood before closing its doors forever.
The Lobster is an unlovely place, with shellacked fish mounted on seedy paneling and tattered holiday decorations; its closing will pass largely unnoticed except by manager Manny DeLeon, for whom The Lobster is his world. Manny is determined to make this last day count, despite obstacles imposed by his soon-to-be-unemployed, rebellious staff, his horrible customers worn out from Christmas shopping, and an impending blizzard. After tonight, he will move on to a lesser position at another corporate restaurant in another town; his future is filled with uncertainty and his present marked by regrets, including an unresolved relationship with a former lover and his ambivalence towards his current, pregnant girlfriend.
A bonus of this exquisitely-told story is O'Nan's spot-on descriptions: the grueling environment of daily food preparation and service in a corporate restaurant comes alive in O'Nan's skillful hands, and his ability to convey even the homeliest detail is so remarkable that you can practically smell the fat sizzling in the fryer. In all, it is a poignant, sometimes wrenching, and very authentic story, told by a master storyteller.