Saturday, May 9, 2009

Review: Last Night at the Lobster

A short, well drawn portrait of inner conflict and life behind the scenes of restaurant chains, this book was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist in 2007. Manny DeLeon is the manager of a Red Lobster restaurant chosen by upper management to be closed. He has two girl friends, one of whom is pregnant, in the process of becoming an 'ex' but whom he can't quite let go of. The Red Lobster company owns Olive Garden, and has offered Manny a position at OG as an asst manager. It's a job, but it's a demotion. He can also bring along 4 others from the many who work at the Lobster with him, and making those choices is not easy for him either. The story plays out in less than 24 hours, starting the morning of the last day the restaurant will be open. The closure has not been publicized, but the staff has been told, and mutinously, most don't show up. A true New England Blizzard has already begun, it's Christmas week, and in true New England style the 'plow guy' is nowhere to be found. As he clears the walk and spreads snow-melt, Manny tries to decide whether to keep the restaurant open with the few staff who have come to work--mostly to pick up their checks--and very sparce patronage. He desparately wants to make a good showing on his last day. Throughtout the day, we are treated to a series of incidents as the nasty waitress deals with the obnoxious 4 yr old and even more obnoxious mother, the prima donna 'hostess' refuses to chip in to help out, the retirement party (the only big business of the day) complains about one thing or another, the cook continually criticizes everyone and everything, every member of the staff threatens to walk out, the pot of freshing cooked pasta hits the deck, a bus load of sick old folks pulls in the use the 'facilities', the power flickers and fails, booze is disappearing from the bar, and Manny tries to concentrate on just getting through the last day. The subtle psycological drama being played out here is exquisitely written. Humor lightens the severity of the story, but in the end, it's an excellent portrait of life today. "Stuff" happens, life goes on--not always the way we want it to-- and not many people even notice.


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