sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

June 7, 2009

into the stacks: 2009.4
posted by soe 12:59 am

Another step toward clearing the backlog of unreviewed books. I read this back in January:

Late Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

From the jacket: “Perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall, the Red Lobster hasn’t been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift. With only four shopping days left until Christmas, Manny must convince his near-mutinous staff to hunker down and serve the final onslaught of hungry retirees, lunatics, and holiday office parties. All the while, he’s wondering how to handle the waitress he’s still in love with, his pregnant girlfriend at home, and where to find the present that will make everything better.”

My take: I first read about this book from Maggie more than a year ago. Learning that it was set a few towns over from where I used to live in Connecticut, just up Route 9, immediately earned it a place on my To Be Read list. So when I finally remembered to request it from the library, I was hoping for a nostalgic look at my home state through the eyes of a peer — even if that peer was the pot-smoking manager of a chain restaurant.

What I got, though, was a novella so depressing that I still can’t believe I actually finished it. It is, I would assume, an accurate portrayal of blue-collar workers being downsized at the holidays, many without prospects of attaining new employment quickly. The main characters (including Manny, who cheated on his girlfriend with one of the waitresses, who agonized over which of his employees he could take with him to the Olive Garden in the next town when the corporate office let him “save” five employees, and who is particularly kind and gentle to his old high school basketball coach and to a developmentally disabled employee) were well-crafted and well-rounded (as were several of the secondaries), but, although likable, I’m not sure I’d actually want to know them in real life. The fact that this tale is set in a familiar locale and that I could actually envision this happening there did not serve to make the story seem less bleak.

Well-written, but a true downer. Avoid if you want to be able to hold out hope for a better future for the characters you read about.

Pages: 146 pages

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