Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: "Last Night at the Lobster" by Stewart O' Nan

Many times, even the smartest of us tend to associate grand ideas and profound feelings with equally grand objects and places, such as foreign continents or massive events like war or large adventures, but they always seem to take everyday life for granted. They fail to recognize the poetry and beauty in things like jobs, the people we see everyday and the things we do to get through life. But in Stewart O’ Nan’s short novel Last Night at the Lobster, these events come to life thanks to a writer who uses his great skills to create a richly detailed and nuanced world of a place everyone who reads this has been to, probably in the last month. Chronicling the last day of a New England Red Lobster only a few days before Christmas, O’ Nan has crafted a story of wonder and amazement tout of people very much like us. They are hard workers, doing what they need to survive. They are flawed, sometimes in hilarious ways and sometimes in tragic ways, but they are fully-formed people with thoughts, emotions, hopes and dreams as well as regrets and malice, and O’ Nan writes about them with such clarity and sincere love, it is hard not to get emotionally invested in the lives of these people even with its short 146 page length, who always seem to be behind the 8-ball, yet always find a way to make things work even if that means giving up and admitting you need help. The main character is Manny, the manager of this soon to be closed establishment. As he goes about his day, he must deal with a staff that might not show up, or if they do, have no intention of working responsibly, the coming snow storm which may shut the restaurant down early, and the unrequited love he has for one of his waitress’s while his pregnant girlfriend waits at home. Throughout it all, which happens in the span of less than 12 hours, we find that Manny, above all, loves this place that is soon be gone and is trying to do best by his employees, even though he is bound to fall short. This is a funny novel too, with a scene involving an unruly female customer being painfully humorous, and another involving a busload of Chines passengers stopping by to use the bathroom after having a bad batch of mussels is done right funny. But really, this is a very moving novel from quite an unexpected source, as tiny moments, such as Manny helping one his chefs off the bus because his knees are bad, getting a pair of earrings in the nearby mall, or simply opening the store and turning on the stove and frialators are written in elegant yet not heavy prose that brings warmth and awe to these completely mundane events.  From the quiet opening, to the equally quiet ending, where things are promised to go on despite everything else, O’ Nan has written a breathtaking little book on what is ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.

Rating: 5/5

No comments:

Post a Comment