Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

In a little mall in Connecticut, the Red Lobster restaurant is opening for the last time. Corporate headquarters says they're not making their numbers. It's four days before Christmas and it has been snowing all day. A quiet sense of suspended animation permeates the novel; the heavy snowfall mirrors the feelings of the staff who show up for their last shift.

The manager did everything he could think of to make the restaurant work. Sure, he's got personal problems: his girlfriend is pregnant and his affair with one of the waitresses is over; but he is dedicated to the restaurant. Tomorrow he'll be assistant manager at the Olive Garden in the next town.

We follow him as he attends to the details of running the restaurant one more day.  All the while, his mind is running in a hamster wheel of woulda, coulda, shoulda: about the restaurant and his impending demotion, about his girlfriend whom he guesses he'll marry, about his ex-lover and how he could have kept that going. He desperately wants to set things right, but just doesn't know how.

Manny, the manager, is a surprisingly sympathetic character. His relationship with each restaurant worker is well drawn. The sense you get of the restaurant workers is spot on. My friend, the former restaurant manager, said she's worked with every one of them.

This is an evocative, poignant novel that reveals a side of restaurants that you don't see when you're eating out and speaks to the aspirations of everyman.