The Pequod Review:
Stewart O'Nan's short book Last Night at the Lobster takes place mostly on a single day — December 20, when the underperforming New Britain, CT Red Lobster chain location is closing for the last time — and it traces the personal lives of the franchise's general manager (Manny DeLeon) and his employees. The story is slight, and its overall mood is a bit dreary and dispiriting, but O'Nan has spot-on observations about the nature of dead-end service work:
Inside he sets Eddie to work on dusting the front — the blinds and then the woodwork — while he changes the oil in the Frialators and gets them heading. Last day or not, he has to stick to the checklist, and lugs a heavy bucket of dark, stinking sludge outside and across the lot to the grease-only dumpster. A sparrow in a bare tree watches him pour it in, riding a branch as it bobs in the wind. The cold makes him realize he's no longer stoned, that that private part of the day is over, one more last thing.
While there's still an hour till they open, it hasn't escaped Manny that the only crew to show up are the ones he's taking to the Olive Garden with him, as if the others have stayed away to teach him a lesson. With all the problems they've had with staffing, he's been able to offer lots of overtime — a bonus during the holidays — but maybe he underestimated their pride. He's not sure he'd come in (but that's a lie: He'd even be on time).
A couple minutes later, as if to disprove his theory, Leron, of all people, appears, shaking snow off his skull and poking his fade back into shape with his fingers. Sometime between closing Wednesday and now he's picked up a blood-crusted mouse under his left eye. He saunters by Manny, now working on salads at a cutting board, acknowledging him with a soft "All right," and there's no disguising the reek of weed clinging to his army jacket. He punches in and stays in the back hall a long time before coming out in a black do-rag and an apron and reaching for the box of latex gloves.
"Hands," Manny says, jabbing a knife at the sink, and Leron smiles like he almost got away with something, or maybe he thinks Manny's kidding, to still give a shit at this point. It's impossible to tell with Leron.
This is in many ways a much better (and much more realistic) workplace novel than Joshua Ferris's celebrated Then We Came to the End (2007).