Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Last Night at the Lobster

Stewart O'Nan

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Last Night at the Lobster

Title: Last Night at the Lobster
Author: Stewart O'Nan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 146 pages
Availability: Last Night at the Lobster - US
Last Night at the Lobster - UK
Last Night at the Lobster - Canada
Letzte Nacht - Deutschland

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : solid drift-of-life story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 12-1/2008 Minna Proctor
Entertainment Weekly B+ 2/11/2007 Thom Geier
FAZ . 20/6/2008 Gerhard Schulz
The LA Times . 5/11/2007 Susan Salter Reynolds
NZZ A+ 8/10/2007 Tilman Urbach
The NY Observer . 6/11/2007 Adam Rathe
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/11/2007 Nathaniel Rich
San Francisco Chronicle . 25/11/2007 Paul Wilner
USA Today . 12/12/2007 Bob Minzesheimer
The Washington Post . 18/11/2007 Ron Charles

  Review Consensus:

  Generally very favourable

  From the Reviews:
  • "O’Nan has a penchant for characters who recall figures in Diane Arbus photos—wide-eyed and gimpy, dreary and pathological; seductive in a roadkill kind of way. Manny is no exception. He’s propelled forward by virtue of momentum, his underlying passivity less biochemical than the upshot of having been beaten to a pulp by life. It is, sadly, rather too easy to dismiss him -- and, even more sadly, something of a challenge to slog through this short book." - Minna Proctor, Bookforum

  • "From such skimpy material, Stewart O'Nan crafts a perfectly observed slice of working-class life with all the sheen of mopped linoleum in Last Night at the Lobster." - Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly

  • "O'Nans Allegorie handelt so von der alltäglichen Tragödie der verpassten Chancen, der ungewollten Abschiede. Mit teilnehmender Genauigkeit beschreibt der Autor nicht nur das Gute im Menschen, sondern auch das Wankelmütige, Unsichere, Schwache." - Gerhard Schulz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Last Night at the Lobster makes beautiful sense in the span of O'Nan's writing life: It's a Zen koan of a book -- Manny's life in all its integrity echoing out across a wintry mall in a Rust Belt American town." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "An diesem kleinen Buch stimmt alles. (...) Nicht mehr als 150 Seiten braucht O'Nan, um diesen einen letzten Tag zu schildern, der etwas Endgültiges hat. Mit einer dunklen Suggestionskraft, die staunen macht." - Tilman Urbach, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "A lesser author would find himself swimming with sharks here. (...) Stewart O’Nan looks at life and loss with a steady gaze; his Lobster is too good to toss back." - Adam Rathe, The New York Observer

  • "O’Nan’s empathy for his characters is one of his great gifts as a novelist, and it is an impressive achievement that Manny’s misplaced affection for Red Lobster is not risible, but tragic. There is a powerful dignity to Manny’s proud desire to do hard, productive work and contribute something of value to the people with whom he lives and toils. But O’Nan is also a bitter realist." - Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) deliberately quiet mood piece about life and love in the working world.(...) It's more a sonnet than a song cycle, but is no less effective, or moving, for its modesty." - Paul Wilner, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "It's a slim novel, just 146 pages. It deals with one day at one restaurant, but there's a larger story here about blue-collar jobs in a service economy. It's told without being sentimental or condescending. It's enough to send me back to a Red Lobster -- if only to wonder about its employees and all their small and hidden dramas." - Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

  • "(T)here's no soap box under this novel. O'Nan just wants us to watch one day as the snow piles up outside, the customers trickle in and out, and the workers who bothered to show up go through the motion of preparing their last meals together. In his careful description of the routines of cleaning and cooking and serving, O'Nan manages to catch the subtle melody of humble labor." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Last Night at the Lobster describes, in fairly close detail, the last day that a New England 'Red Lobster' restaurant is open. It's a few days before Christmas, and headquarters is pulling the plug on this outlet. Most of the employees have been let go; manager Manny -- around whom the novel is told -- and a handful of others (that Manny got to pick) are moving on to a nearby Olive Garden.
       The restaurant will be shut down pretty much overnight; the customers haven't been warned (and so Manny will also come in the next day, to turn away those expecting to dine there) though rumours have gotten out. The employees are hardly motivated any more, and many of them don't show up. Manny has to operate the restaurant with a skeleton crew on this last day.
       A massive snowstorm helps slow business down; indeed, after lunch practically no one shows up anymore and the one busload that does doesn't need dinner. The employees go through the usual motions -- and have the usual gripes (including with various customers) -- and there's some acting-out, but the finality of it all also hangs over the place like a dark cloud all day.
       Even at the end of the day Manny can't figure out what happened:

he can't figure out how they got from there to here. Their numbers weren't that bad.
       That is what the book is about: the inability to figure out how anyone got from there to here -- whatever stage of their life that happens to be. The numbers look okay, but that's not enough. Most obviously, this applies to Manny and his one-time love and co-worker Jacquie. He still can't figure out what went wrong there:
     He said he wanted to marry her, and she laughed. He knows -- he knew then -- that that wasn't realistic, and yet he was ready to follow through with the rest of his life, honestly pledging himself, maybe because she never took him seriously.
       Manny still has feelings for her, too, but she has a new boyfriend and he's knocked up his girlfriend, and they're obviously moving apart in their very different directions. How they got from there to here they don't know.
       That's the way it is with life, and relationships: you drift along, everything seems to be fine -- the numbers aren't that bad, if you want to look at it that way -- and suddenly everything has changed. It can seem arbitrary (like the restaurant closing), or destiny. You wonder if there might not have been little things you could have done to change the course of events; you'll never know. And O'Nan conveys all that very nicely in his small novel.
       O'Nan revels in the mundane in Last Night at the Lobster. It's filled with the small, practiced motions of the workplace, and Manny's constant, often almost instinctual actions and reactions. Ironically, it's Manny, the manager, that acts most like a drone here as he tries to keep everything moving along like it should, while his employees are more prone to act out. O'Nan also presents and uses the workplace setting well, as even in the short period covered in the novel it proves stifling (and O'Nan repeatedly has Manny step outside for one reason or another; he also has him flee to the nearby mall for a while).
       Simple but appealing.

- Return to top of the page -


Last Night at the Lobster: Reviews: Other books by Stewart O'Nan interest under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       American author Stewart O'Nan was born in 1961.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2009 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links