Last Night at the Lobster

by Stewart O'Nan

Paper Book, 2008


Managing a failed seafood restaurant in a run-down New England mall just before Christmas, Manny DeLeon coordinates a challenging final shift of mutinous staff members, an effort that is complicated by his love for a waitress, a pregnant girlfriend, and an elusive holiday gift.



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User reviews

LibraryThing member Whisper1
O'Nan has a unique way of capturing the life of lower/middle class America.

While at first it appears that the book plods along with very little action, soon the reader realizes that the beauty is in the portrayal of characters who simply work an honest day for an honest pay.

A snowy Connecticut
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evening is the setting for the last night of a Red Lobster restaurant. Manny the manager bravely tries to hold it together as he deals with staff who no longer have a commitment to a business that had little concern for them when making the decision to close and eliminate their livelihood.

Throughout the day Manny and his raggle taggle staff deal with obnoxious customers, crying babies and little old ladies who leave tiny tips as together they go through the motions on what will be their last day of employment.

I liked this book. The characters are well developed. As the snow fell on the darkened, deserted parking lot, I couldn't help but feel compassion and empathy for the hard working souls trying to get through another day, another night.
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LibraryThing member salweir
Sparse, elegant, direct, to-the-point, the language in this luminous little book is what I learned in writing class: "show, don't tell." As soon as I picked up the book and read the first paragraph I knew I had found a gem.

In fine detail, O'Nan lets this story of the last night of a restaurant in a
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mall in Connecticut develop, pushed gently along by Manny, the restaurant's manager and story's protagonist. The Lobster is a chain restaurant, whose parent company has decided to close because it does not have "the numbers" needed. Most of the staff will be laid off, except for Manny and five staffers he has chosen from among the restaurant's wait and cooking staff. Tonight, the last night, snow begins to fall, and the forecasts provided by the media range from a few inches to two feet.

Manny arrives as early as usual, and brings the dormant restaurant to life, switching on lights, powering up machines, all the while reminiscing about his days here at the Lobster. Reliable staff, losers, petty thieves, loyal employees, friends, all populate Manny's nostalgic trip, until the first of the staff arrives.

The day starts, there is enough staff to handle the lunch hour, and the story shifts from inside the kitchen, inside the staff room, inside the staff, out to the customers who come to eat on this day, four days before Christmas.

It is a bittersweet tale, of romance lost, of competition between waitresses for good tippers, of petty rivalries, as well as of loyalty to fellow workers, to dedication to doing one's job well, to adherence to a code of honor.

All along O'Nan lets his characters tell their tales, adding only sufficient detail to make the picture robust. Yet these characters need little assistance: these are their lives, and they are not afraid of being alive, even if some parts of their lives are not what they wish.

In a mere 146 pages (and small pages, at that), O'Nan unfolds a masterful, insightful, look at the lives of characters he clearly loves. A gem. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member clue
Manny is the manager of a rundown Red Lobster in New England. He comes to work at 11:00 A.M. on Dec. 22 just like he always does, ready to do the best job he can at his Lobster. It's a Saturday, always the busiest day of the week and he wonders who will show up for work that day.

In 12 hours the
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restaurant will close. Not for that day like all the other Saturdays through the years, but for the last time. In just 12 hours the restaurant will no longer exist and the employees will no longer exist either.

The book begins with Manny driving into the parking lot and it ends with Manny being the last to drive out. In between O'Nan doesn't make one misstep. His characters are genuine and the setting is one that I can see, smell and hear. It turns out to be a bad weather day with a snowstorm driving customers home. Since only a few come in the employees have time to talk. We learn about a shattered romance, about silly rivalries, about good intentions, about loyalty. Some characters have painful shortcomings and some have survival skills. Manny is a sterling guy just hoping he can figure out how to talk to the waitress that doesn't want him no matter how much he loves her and what to do about his pregnant girlfriend he's not sure he wants to marry. The story is touching because we know these people and wish they weren't caught up in this storm.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Although Last Night at the Lobster is set a few days before Christmas, it isn't a feel-good Christmas story. It's the story of an ending – of the closure of a Red Lobster in suburban New England, of the last day its employees will spend together, and of the final chapter in the aftermath of an
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affair between the manager and one of the servers. The tone feels like a melancholy New Year's Eve. It's also a story of labor vs. management, and its main character, “Manny”, could be viewed as an Everyman. Although Manny is the restaurant's manager and could be viewed as middle management, he feels closer to the laborers he spends his days with than to the faceless corporate bureaucrats in a remote location. This behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant industry left me wanting to be a more generous tipper (and I'm not particularly stingy in that respect). It also reminded me of all the reasons I like to support locally-owned businesses.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
With Last Night At the Lobster, author Steward O’Nan has perfectly captured a moment in time that made the reading experience feel quite voyeuristic. The final hours of a Red Lobster Restaurant in New England occurring on a snowy night just five days before Christmas had an authenticity about it
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that made the reading all the more poignant. I have often frequented these types of chain restaurants that are housed in the back end of a mall parking lot and so the book had a familiar yet despondent note.

More of a mood piece than an actual story, we step into the restaurant and immediately are caught up in the employee’s last shift. As the manager, Manny opens the restaurant we learn that corporate management is closing them down. Some have jobs to move onto and others are being simply let go. It’s understandable that most of the employees who are being let go fail to show up, leaving the rest to scramble to keep the business flowing smoothly. A few customers-from-hell, a couple of surly employees, and the blighted love affair of the manager and one of the waitresses liven up the final hours of the Red Lobster but as the hours tick down the overall feeling is one of sadness.

Although very low key Last Night At The Lobster is a haunting and unforgettable glimpse into the lives of a group of service industry workers who are facing the reality of job change or loss. I read this book in pretty much one sitting and was totally absorbed.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
Stewart O’Nan’s novella is the story of Manny, an overweight, eager-to-please manager of a Red Lobster that is going out of business. We follow Manny through his last day on the job as he tries to fulfill his duties and motivate the remaining staff, not to mention puzzle through his
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relationship with one of the waitresses. It may sound like a dull premise, but it’s not. I love novellas – when they are well done – because an author has to be able to do a lot with very little. O’Nan has produced an excellent portrait of a hard working guy who, despite his best efforts, can’t seem to catch a break. It’s bleak and sad, and yet the pride Manny takes in his work is also moving and somehow beautiful. And it gave me a hankering for a cheddar bay biscuit…
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LibraryThing member kmaziarz
Manny DeLeon is the general manager of a Red Lobster, and a more conscientious, respectable, and hard-working manager is hard to imagine. Despite all of Manny’s care and effort, however, the corporate branch has decided to close his Lobster because the numbers just aren’t up to expectations.
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Manny is being moved to a nearby Olive Garden and demoted to assistant manager, and has been allowed to bring five workers along with him. But Manny cannot help but feel that he’s losing an important part of his life, and perhaps even his second home.

The novel takes place over the course of the Lobster’s final day of operation, five days before Christmas. Manny must deal with disgruntled workers who do not show up, or who show up only to steal liquor or vandalize his car; with staff in-fighting; with disrespectful customers; with his own still-intense feelings towards a waitress with whom his relationship has ended; and with a huge snowstorm that threatens to force the Lobster to close early, shortening Manny’s time there even further. Events are conspiring against Manny, who is frantically trying to find meaning, validation, and comfort in the small routines of his life, attaching desperate importance to every ending.

Exquisitely observed, funny, wise, and poignant, “Last Night at the Lobster” will resonate deeply with anyone who’s ever worked in food service or retail.
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LibraryThing member hayduke
Last Night at the Lobster is a nice little tribute to the working stiffs in customer service (waitstaff, store clerks, etc.), which can often feel like a thankless job. Manny DeLeon is the manager of a Red Lobster, operating on its last night of business, on a snowy evening just days before
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Christmas. He tries to keep his crew together until the end in this poignant short novel, dealing with evil toddlers, and toddling old folks; a flagging inventory and absconding employees. It's poignant without feeling maudlin.

I've read many longer books that are not filled with as many nice moments as Last Night at the Lobster.
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LibraryThing member KinnicChick
I found Last Night at the Lobster captivating. It wasn't an upbeat and happy story, but was a story for our current time with the economy as it is and so many lives as uncertain as they are.

O'Nan's descriptions of Manny, the manager of the Red Lobster and that restaurant's last night of operation
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before being closed down due to poor receipts, are sharp and keenly adept. His dialogs are witty and his characters are human and real. I loved his descriptive writing and realistic slice of Americana...

I'll be seeking out more of his works.
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LibraryThing member ladycato
Manny has tried to do everything right. He proposed to the girl he loved, but she turned him down. He's tried to take good care of his employees, even the slackers who come in reeking of marijuana. But his Red Lobster hasn't made the sales that corporate wants, and it's the final night of business.
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As a massive snowstorm blows in, Manny wrestles with sadness over the closure, his unabated love for the girl who got away, and disgust at his own lack of emotion towards his pregnant girlfriend. It's just days till Christmas, but Manny has nothing left to give.

I loved this little book. It's really a character portrait. I really felt for Manny, who just a working class guy trying to do the right thing. The Red Lobster is a character unto itself, too. O'Nan did incredible research on every little detail that goes into a day on the job there. It all felt incredibly real. If you've ever had a last day on the job and know that feeling of "man, I've done this a million times and could do this in my sleep - how can this be the last time?" you'll understand the underlying sentiments in Last Night at the Lobster. The descriptions and dialogue are dead-on, too. I definitely will seek out more of Stewart O'Nan's work.
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LibraryThing member yooperprof
What if James Joyce lived in working class suburban New England during the second administration of George W. Bush and wrote a novel about his experience as the manager of a failing "Red Lobster"? It's like Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" crossed with an Edward Hopper canvas - emphasizing
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the dignity of overlooked people in lives straddling alienation and connection.
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LibraryThing member kristenn
Fast read -- 146 pages and smaller (h/w) than your average hardcover. I loved O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying some time ago, but I hadn't read anything else by him since then because the newer plots didn't grab me. This one was getting exceptional reviews and sounded like a nice slice-of-life piece.
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And it was. The characters were realistic and (mostly) sympathetic. I was originally leery of the main character and his mistakes, but I ended up liking him too. Never waited tables myself, but the setting felt plenty realistic from an outsider's perspective. Appreciated the lack of smarmy dramatic twists. Very little fleshing out of some of the supporting characters, but -- again -- it was 146 pages and small, so the fleshing out really didn't feel necessary. We already know those people, after all.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
More and more, I'm falling in love with the simple power of O'Nan's work. The careful characterizations and heartbreaking regularity of a single normal day are at the forefront of this short novel--and, while it may not be accessable for younger readers because of the normality, I think that makes
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it all the more powerful for readers who are old enough to have faced disappointment, and been torn between jadedness and optimism. Simply, I would absolutely recommend this book. At 18, I think I might have been bored by it; now, at 31, I can only sit back and admire it for the beauty of the day to day that rests here.
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LibraryThing member rosalita
It's just a few days before Christmas, but there's no holiday cheer at the Red Lobster restaurant in New Britain, Connecticut. The corporate overlords have decided to close down the underperforming eatery, and it's left to Manny to make sure his rapidly dwindling staff keeps up standards on this
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last day of operations. To make matters worse, a snowstorm is moving in, making travel hazardous and giving both staff and customers even less incentive to go above and beyond.

O'Nan has written a book that is almost claustrophobic in its deceptive simplicity, with the entire narrative other than one scene set within the restaurant's walls. The manger, Manny, is imbued with a sad, quiet dignity that is complicated by his hopeless romantic entanglement with one of his employees. Most of his staff has already checked out mentally, but Manny can't keep himself from doing everything by the book and giving the few customers who show up a quality dining experience. He's anxious that everyone should walk away from this last night at the Lobster with good memories, an impossible task under the circumstances but noble even in its impossibility.

On a more superficial note, the glimpse "behind the curtain" of how a chain restaurant operates was also fascinating to me. I cringed in sympathetic horror as Manny and his staff tried to cope with a pint-sized terrorist, an unexpected large office party, and the elderly lunchtime regular who has no idea that his daily refuge is being yanked out from beneath his feet.
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LibraryThing member Scrabblenut
This is a little gem of a book for anyone who has ever worked in fast food, or known someone who has, and especially if they have had a franchise close out from under them. It covers the last day of work for manager Manny and his crew, and all his thoughts as they cope with the final day, without
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being able to even tell their loyal customers that they are closing.
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LibraryThing member bexaplex
Manny opens up the Red Lobster in New Britain, CT for one last night before it closes for good.

Everything about this tiny novel is beautifully summoned: central Connecticut's aging retail structure, pointless edicts from Corporate, what it feels like to be laid off and then have to come back to
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work, how menial work can make you enraged, and the odds and ends of feelings left over from a relationship.
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LibraryThing member GBev2008
A simple, well written, and "readable" story about the last day of business at a Red Lobster restaurant.

O'Nan does a good job staying clear of turning the relationship between Manny and Jacquie into shameless melodrama. Their story and the events at the restaurant are entirely believable.

He also
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avoids moralizing about the characters' actions and just tells the story...and like real life things don't just tie up neatly. Little is settled in the end and life moves on.

It's not as good as I was told, but I still recommend it.
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LibraryThing member crnfva
Manny is the manager of a Red Lobster restaurant, that the owning company decides to shut down. In the last night of the place, Manny will have to go through evasive coworkers, a snow blizard, an ex lover's goodbye, and a constant feeling of ending.
Manny feels like the last night at the Lobster
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should be somehow conclusive for his own lfe, but sometimes we just have to go through with are job, and no relevant changing will come our way...
The book is nice and lovable, like many of his character: and it's about going on with one's life. Sometimes it's less difficult then it seems. Or maybe the other way around?
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
Stewart O'Nan writes understated novels about the lives of working people. This one concerns the general manager of a Red Lobster who is overseeing the last day and night before it is closed for good. Many of the employees bail out, which is just as well because a blizzard keeps most customers
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away. The manager is determined to do the right thing and "lead by example" through to the bitter end, although he is preoccupied with the end of a love affair and the impending birth of his first child. The book is short, and there's almost no plot here. It's all about the characters.
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LibraryThing member khuggard
Last Night at the Lobster follows general manager Manny through his last shift at a Red Lobster restaurant that is closing down. While researching this book, the author purchased an employee handbook on eBay and spent countless hours interviewing Red Lobster staff. His research efforts paid off as
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it is the little details about running a restaurant that bring this book to life. We walk with Manny through his last day as he changes light bulbs over tables, cleans up spilled drinks, and counts the cash at day's end. A blizzard hits in the afternoon and though it makes sense for Manny to close the Red Lobster early, he stays open to prolong the last day of this chapter in his life. Manny seems to want something epic to happen to commemorate this transition, but nothing does. This book reflects life in that most days are like the previous day, things change, and the rest of the world doesn't notice.
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LibraryThing member maggiereads
As I close my latest book and look down Main Street, I see a beautiful American flag dancing in the sunshine. Usually, I use the flag as a wind indicator before heading outdoors, but today it captures my gaze as I think about Stewart O’Nan’s new book "Last Night at the Lobster."

I originally
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grabbed the book for its Christmas angle. The book is set entirely in one day which happens to be four days before Christmas. On December 20, in America’s Rust Belt, unbeknownst to the eating public, New Britain’s Red Lobster will close its doors forever. With this premise, I immediately concluded the book will be a tale of Christmas miracles involving the soon-to-be ex-Red Lobster employees.

Boy was I wrong. If there is any miracle it is the fact that employees have chosen to participate in work at all. At least this is how manager Manny DeLeon sees it. As he sits in his hand-me-down Regal, taking one last toke in the mid-day gray, he speculates on who will and who won’t show for this last shift. He guesses those who will be accompanying him to the Olive Garden in Bristol and those eager to get their hands on a pre-Christmas pay check will come in or at least make an appearance.

Manny hates to admit it, but at 35 he likes being manager of Red Lobster. For many years now he has ensured his customers enjoy prompt service in a clean facility. He is still in shock over the closing. He never saw it coming since his numbers remained high even though they resurfaced highway 9 this past summer.

Unlocking doors and turning on lights, he ambles past the appliances he has maintained for years, patting each as a pet. What will he miss most? It has to be the familial nature of the job. Whether he is breaking up brotherly fights between his cook, Ty, and slacker Fredo, or listening to motherly advice from Roz, the lifer waitress who wears a nametag so old he can’t find it on eBay, he realizes those days are over.

He knows one thing; he will not miss the beast. Covered in a corner, far from his eyes, the snow blower sits, taunting his manhood. Unfortunately, on his very last day, a nor’easter is kicking up and it looks like the beast will be needed.

As I gaze back at the flag, I realize author O’Nan has written a day in ordinary America, where each service worker deserves a little Christmas miracle.
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LibraryThing member lizhawk
Nothing really happens in this tiny quiet treat though we meet the stalwart staff of the New Britain, CT, Red Lobster and follow them on their last day at work. Manny, the manager, a man of integrity and deep thought, goes through the day with optimism. Corporate is closing his restaurant and
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sending him to work as Assistant Manager at Olive Garden. Despite a raging blizzard and depleted supplies, Manny rallies his staff of four to serve any customers who brave the elements. A satisfying gliimpse into real people, real lives, real work.
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LibraryThing member hrabbit
Poignant.... this book could be reread every winter right before the holidays. It resonates so simply and elegantly, though elegant is a strange word to use in combination with the Lobster. Very real characters and it describes the world that you usually never notice, or if you noticed it you might
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find it depressing. A slice of the real world without being "slicey."
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LibraryThing member bookmagic
My review: This is the second O'Nan book I have read, after Snow Angels. Even though Lobster does not have a dramatic plot, it was a beautifully written novella. It is a simple story, the last night of Manny managing a Red Lobster before it closes and he is transferred to work at an Olive Garden.
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Lots of thing go wrong; staff that doesn't show up, a blizzard, and the loss of an old love, but he is determined to stay open and be responsible. Manny is really the only character that is delved into but the rest of the characters add some flavor. It is difficult to describe but I think this exemplifies what a good writer can do with the most simple of stories. And O'Nan is a great writer. I enjoyed this one and have Songs of the Missing on my tbr list.
my rating 4.5/5
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LibraryThing member kylenapoli
A perfect miniature animated by the spirit and regrets of a hero who knows how to do most things right -- but not all.


Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2009)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 2007)
Connecticut Book Award (Finalist — Fiction — 2008)


Original publication date



0143114425 / 9780143114420
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