Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster

by Stewart O'Nan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143114420
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/28/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 288,486
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Stewart O'Nan is the author of sixteen previous novels, including City of Secrets, West of SunsetThe OddsEmily AloneSongs for the Missing, Last Night at the LobsterA Prayer for the Dying, and Snow Angels. His 2007 novel Last Night at the Lobster was a national bestseller and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his family.


Avon, CT

Date of Birth:

February 4, 1961

Place of Birth:

Pittsburgh, PA


B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Boston University, 1983; M.F.A., Cornell University, 1992

Reading Group Guide

There are only four shopping days left until Christmas when Manny DeLeon pulls his beat-up Buick Regal into the parking lot at the Red Lobster—his Red Lobster—at least for one more day. He’s been the general manager of the New Britain location for years and has come to feel a justified pride in its smooth performance. So the news that Darden Restaurants, Inc., plans to close the branch, demote him to assistant manager at a nearby Olive Garden, and fire thirty-nine of the forty-four employees he supervises was a shock that Manny wasn’t happy to face.

The past year had already been a rough one. His abuelita (“grandmother” in Spanish), who raised him, had passed away, the waitress he’d fallen madly in love with had ended their brief but joyful affair, and his less beloved girlfriend had become pregnant and was soon due to deliver their child. But Manny doesn’t indulge in self-pity as he matter-of-factly prepares the restaurant for its final day of service.

He is a little worried about who will show up for work. Since most of the staff has already been let go, he’s been running things with a skeleton crew, and keeping them motivated has been tough. To make things worse, a nor’easter is threatening to keep all but the most conscientious workers at home, and Manny fears no snowstorm is going to keep holiday shoppers away from the neighboring mall—which means potentially cranky diners come lunchtime.

As Manny’s staff slowly trickles in, he feels some relief but finds his worry shifting over to his personal life. Deena, his girlfriend, is pressuring him to marry her, and he’s got to find time to get her a “romantic” Christmas present, when he’s really fantasizing about how to win back Jacquie before the restaurant closes and she walks out of his life forever. But as they open up for lunch, his thoughts return to managing tensions in the kitchen and between the wait staff.

He’s even more short-staffed than he feared, but not so much so that he’s willing to close—especially when he can help out bussing tables. While the lunch crowd turns out to be smaller than he expected, it’s also more demanding, and a spoiled toddler and an office-party of fourteen run everyone ragged to the point of mutiny. Yet Manny manages to maintain a degree of decorum: placating, mediating, and toiling on as the hours and minutes tick down to this Lobster’s irrevocable end.

Stewart O’Nan has been hailed as “the bard of the working class,” and he has crafted here a powerful and vividly real day-in-the-life of an American everyman that ponders the value of honor and the measure of a man’s achievement weighed against the corporate bottom line and asks where, in the midst of it all, is there a place for love?


Stewart O'Nan is the author of ten novels, including Snow Angels and A Prayer for the Dying, as well as works of nonfiction, including the bestselling book with Stephen King on the Boston Red Sox, Faithful. Granta named him one of the twenty Best Young American Novelists in 1995. He lives with his family in Avon, Connecticut.


Q. Although many of your novels depict the lives and struggles of everyday people, this is something of a departure for you. What inspired Last Night at the Lobster?

A. A town over from us, the regulars showed up one Sunday morning to their local Red Lobster and found the front doors locked. Just as in the book, Darden Restaurants, Inc., decided that location’s receipts weren’t good enough and shut it down. When I read about it in the paper, I thought back to my experience working in kitchens and how each layer (management, cooks, waitstaff, kitchen) becomes both its own little territorial group yet also part of the functioning whole, and while people may bitch and squabble (and even despise each other), they’re like a family. Here was a family, and a whole little world, that had disappeared overnight.

Q. Since the locale is so critical to your story, what made you choose the Red Lobster?

A. People consider chain restaurants soulless noplaces, boxes out along the commercial strip. They’re everywhere, and to most people unremarkable, as bland as the food they serve. I liked the fact they’re overlooked, hidden in plain sight. And Red Lobster’s not cheap. It’s not fast food, and yet it’s not a real restaurant either, just a copy of a corporate ideal. It’s a completely American in-between zone, a natural stage for my people.

Q. Did you inform anyone at Darden Restaurants of your intentions? If so, what was their response?

A. I didn’t tell anyone at Darden. I didn’t want any official help or interference. Better to snoop around on my own.

Q. Your attention to detail is incredible. How did you conduct your research? What were some of the more interesting or startling facts you uncovered?

A. I went to a bunch of different Red Lobsters and other restaurants and kitchens. I lurked around, taking notes and pictures, grabbed some menus. I rooted out some blogs written by employees; but just talking with people who worked there and watching and listening to the front and back of the house in action, the way people treat each other, the small everyday dramas—that was the best.

The most startling fact to me, thinking about Manny, is that Darden doesn’t sell franchises, so a manager of a Red Lobster or Olive Garden has all the daily responsibilities of an owner but none of the privileges. He or she can put all of his or her hard work and pride into the place and have it snatched away at the whim of the home office.

Q. The characters are so simply yet so perfectly sketched and you’ve really captured the nuances of the work dynamic. It’s hard to believe that they aren’t all real people. Did you base any of them on your own experience?

A. It’s a small group, and Manny has to rely on them so heavily—and is so keyed-up for this last double shift—that every exchange is weighted. After so long, at such close quarters, he thinks he knows exactly what he can expect from them, and yet they continually surprise him, because his hopes for the day are just too high, and no one cares as much as he does.

Most of the characters are based on people I knew from my days working in kitchens. A few—Roz, Ty, Eddie, Leron, Jacquie—are very close to the originals (Roz is Roz’s real name, and there was a Fat Kathy who fought with her boyfriend in the parking lot), but I see them as separate from them, with lives that extend well beyond the borders of the story.

Q. Would it be fair to say that the marlin in this novel is related to another literary marlin?

A. I hadn’t actually thought of the Old Man’s big fish, but it sort of fits. Manny tries to see some grandeur and dignity in this debased and doomed version of the marlin. And he hopes to show some grace under pressure. Though I should say that the book’s true literary ancestor is Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with Darden Restaurants as Scrooge and Manny as Bob Cratchit, Eddie as Tiny Tim..

Q. Is Manny ultimately meant to be a hero or a loser?

A. Manny is like Larry in The Names of the Dead or Jacob in A Prayer for the Dying or Patty in The Good Wife. He’s a decent person doing his best for everyone in an impossible situation, and he’s alone. He’s responsible and committed to this hopeless task (and quest) when everyone else thinks he should forget about it. Is Don Quixote a hero or a fool? Another early model for Last Night was High Noon, with Manny as Gary Cooper. I think Manny knows a lot about work and honor and loyalty, as antiquated as those notions are in the face of his situation. In the end he may lose everything, but he doesn’t lose himself.

Q. You preface the novel with a quote by the Pulitzer Prize–winning Latino poet Luis Alberto Urrea. It’s about the anonymous “vatos never in a poem.” Was Manny always meant to be a Latino character, and how does his ethnic identity affect the story?

A. Manny was there from the very beginning, driving to work in his abuelita’s car, his sole inheritance. He’s an unsung guy, like most of the folks I write about. He’s not exceptional or hip or flamboyant. He’s not someone who would consider himself interesting. Like the Red Lobster, he’s everywhere in America but rarely, if ever, heard from. His ethnicity is an irreducible part of him, intertwined with his pride and his love and his grief. While it sets him apart from the Lobster’s clientele (mostly suburban white Anglo women), it also means that he feels completely at home in New Britain and with anyone and everyone who works alongside him. He knows the value of work, and the cost of hope.

Q. What is your biggest challenge as a writer? What part of the job do you enjoy most?

A. My biggest challenge and the part of the job I love the most are the same: letting the reader feel what it’s like to be someone they otherwise might never think of.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I’m finishing a summer novel about a small Ohio town on Lake Erie and an eighteen-year-old girl who disappears. In tone and landscape it reminds me somewhat of Snow Angels, meaning it’s very sad but has some hard-won light at its core. I guess it’s like many of my books in that it’s about how we find the hope to go on.

And by the way, thanks for reading my books. I know they’re not always easy and not always fun, but I do hope they’re true.


  • Why does Manny choose to keep the restaurant open through the snowstorm? Would he have made the same decision if it hadn’t been the restaurant’s last day?
  • How well do you think Darden Restaurants handled closing this branch of the Red Lobster? Could they have made the transition easier for the employees?
  • When Jacquie shows up for work, she’s angry with him for his glib response, saying, “Why do you have to go and make a joke about it? I don’t know if you know this, but a lot of us only came in because of you.” Why can’t Manny see the loyalty he’s aroused in some of his staff?
  • When the mother of the sick toddler demands the phone number of Manny’s boss, he gives it to her even though his staff doesn’t understand—or approve. Have you ever had to do something that you felt was the right thing to do even if the people around you did not? Discuss how that made you feel.
  • Manny seems to have a soft spot for Coach Kashynski. Is it just sentimentality, or is there a deeper reason?
  • After buying the earrings for Deena, he thinks, “Sometimes it’s not the thought that counts, just the present.” Do you agree or disagree?
  • Despite the likelihood that no one will ever use the bathrooms again—the building will likely even be demolished—Manny cleans them up after the busload of sick passengers departs. What does his decision say about him?
  • Do you think that Jacquie and Manny’s relationship was doomed to failure, or do you think he could have done something differently? Do you think Manny and Deena will stay together? Why or why not?
  • Manny couldn’t bring himself to steal the marlin even though he defied company policy in giving away the lighthouse glasses. What, in his mind, is the difference between the two transgressions?
  • What does it say about the way businesses operate today when a man as hardworking and conscientious as Manny is treated as if he were negligible?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Last Night at the Lobster 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 76 reviews.
    JKtypist More than 1 year ago
    This is a riveting book in spite of its relatively mundane subject. O'Nan can find the simplistic notions that create compound to shape the events of our everyday lives and painstakingly draws them out for the readers to absorb and digest. This book, about little more than the last night of a restaurant actually encompasses so much more. A great book.
    debbook More than 1 year ago
    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. 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
    MarionMarchetto_author More than 1 year ago
    As a native of Connecticut I am familiar with the setting of Last Night at the Lobster. So for me this story also brought me memories of my home state. O'Nan evokes the feelings of 'being there' with his beautiful descriptive passages. I could almost feel the biting wind driving the swirling snow of the early hours of the blizzard. By now you'll know that the story centers around the manager of a chain restaurant that is literally on the verge of closing. Not a glamorous job by any means, however, Manager Manny DeLeon has embraced the position and is a study is corporate loyalty. Not so his employees with whom he must deal on this closing day. The cast of characters is as complex as life itself. The reader is given much to digest in a short space but the facts are succinct and easily understood. There's Eddie the handicapped employee who arrives via van, Ty the Executive Chef, Roz the head waitress, Jacquie who was at one time Manny's lover (and whom he still thinks he loves), and several disgruntled others who will shortly be out of work. The blizzard conditions and lack of customers only deepen the clarity with which we see the behind the scenes areas of a corporate outpost. The story is original, the cast unique, the entire novel a truly wonderful read especially on a snowy day. My only question is: what happens to the lobsters in the tank?
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    O'Nan nails the food service job with all the usual characters - yet avoids caricatures. You believe every minute. It's just a slow snowy night at the Lobster, yet you'll come back to this perfect story often, and that's my measure of success.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book quickly draws you into the lives of the characters. Easy to relate to every one from hostess to dishwasher. If you have ever worked in the industry you know these are people you have had the pleasure to know. A quick easy read that was over to soon.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    If you are looking for a relationship drama - turn around. If you're looking for some cataclysmic life altering epiphany to occur to the protagonist - step away from the computer. That's not what O'Nan does. He writes about the everyday mundane thoughts and actions of the "every" person. It's not meant to be exciting; it's meant to put you inside someone else's life and head. If that's your thing; read this. If this sounds boring to you; look at another book. I have to be in the right state of mind to read O'Nan. If I want an entertaining and interestingly far-fetched book, I pick up John Irving.
    MurielTN More than 1 year ago
    Who hasn't been to Red Lobster? This book takes us to one on its last is closing. We meet the people who work there and discover how their lives have intertwined over the years. I could have spent more time with the employees, (some of) the customers, the restaurant and the atmosphere created by the snow storm. But, alas, it was the last night.
    bookczuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I'm not entirely sure what I expected from this book, but it certainly was quite different from what I imagined. I think I expected lighthearted fun, but instead found myself immersed in the world of Manny, on the last night the Red Lobster he has managed for years is open. It's a different slice of life than the one I know, but in a few words and even fewer pages O'Nan takes the reader totally and thoroughly into that snowy night. Great character studies, and certainly a definite slice of America. To be honest, I'm still not sure if I actually liked the book. It's a stark and not entirely hopeful glimpse of life. But in it's realism is probably its glory.
    2wonderY on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    In Manny, O'Nan draws a character who seems real and at the same time, is admirable in many ways. Though it's not revealed whether he loves the job, he is hard-working and conscientious to the very last. He is fair, even-tempered, a real good guy. He draws enough empathy from the reader to stay with him throughout this long and aggravating work day.
    kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    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. 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.
    GBev2008 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    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 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.
    khuggard on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    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 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.
    kakadoo202 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    nomplot, just like a journal of a few hours at a restaurant which is about to close for good. aprupt start. aprupt ending. feels like a chapter of a book.
    LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The Red Lobster restaurant is closing for good. The author takies us through the last day of opertions through the eyes of Manny, the manager. He deals with problems of inventory control, staff who don't show up, bad weather and with his feelings for waitress Jacquie, with whom he is still in love although their relationship has ended. All of these problems are made more poignant by the fact of the restaurant's closure. Manny is a well developed character, who is seeking some sort of closure to his problems as his restaurant closes. But, unlike the Red Lobster, life goes on.This is a really good story about people who work together for years yet drift apart so easily when the job ends. It's about getting on with life despite major changes and transitions. It's about how much in life is only seemingly permanent and made me think about holding on to what's really important.
    AlRiske on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I love short novels and this is a really good one. The details make it seem very real.
    amymelniczenko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    What a sweet little book - such an easy read yet very impactful and interesting. It's really a character study when it comes down to it ... and the characters really are interesting and compelling. I found the sense of place to be very well done by O'Nan - he really gave you a feeling for the time and place of the novel. At times, I felt as if I was there with the characters of the book, watching them experience the events of the book. It's also rather elegant in a very simplistic way. I loved the simplicity with which the story was told and how it really helped the reader 'feel' the book in a very raw way. The emotional sub-text could be overlooked if the reader focuses too much on the simplicity of the story. The emotion is very real and raw. I loved that aspect and felt it really made the book very powerful. Ultimately, I felt it was a very quaint, interesting novel that I'm so very glad that I read.
    bexaplex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    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 work, how menial work can make you enraged, and the odds and ends of feelings left over from a relationship.
    thornton37814 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    It's the last day for this Connecticut Red Lobster because the store has not been performing as well as others. Manny and his incredibly shrinking staff deal with the customers, the emotions of a last day and departures, and other normal everyday issues. While there is not a lot of plot action, I suspect that persons who have worked in the restaurant industry as wait staff, cooks, managers, etc. will enjoy this quick and short read. While there is a little bit of foul language, it's not as pervasive as that found in other novels and not beyond what you might expect under the circumstances and from the character using it.
    debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    It¿s the last night for the Red Lobster at the edge of an old mall in New England. The night is snowy and there are not many customers. Tomorrow, the restaurant will close forever. A perfect time to listen in as employees talk together and discuss the difficulties of living in 21st century America on a tight budget with a small circle of acquaintances. The manager relates the minute-by-minute events of the last evening, the snow falling, the troubled staff, the customers who drift in.
    wvlibrarydude on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A good look at the character of Manny, a manager of a closing Red Lobster. A man stuck in between in age, relationships, jobs and so much of his life. Just trying to do things right by himself and those around him. I like how so much of his decisions are made on the spur.Good character development, but not a story for language or plotting if that is your thing.
    kristenn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    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. 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.
    miriamparker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The idea behind this just feels so slight to me. It's a good slice of life novella...but it is so small, it almost should have been condensed more to a story or blown up and really explored so much more. The way it's just slight without lyrical writing to support the slight-ness.
    Scrabblenut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    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 being able to even tell their loyal customers that they are closing.
    dbartlett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Stewart O'Nan's short novel (146 pages) relates the last day in the life of a Red Lobster restaurant. Manager Manny DeLeon must deal with employee "no-shows", an ever-worsening snowstorm, and his own personal feelings towards Jacquie, a waitress with whom he had a short romance. Manny's current girlfriend Deena is pregnant, but Manny's heart is still with Jacquie. Manny also finds it hard to let go of the Red Lobster, even though he and a few other employees will be transferred to a nearby Olive Garden. His hopes of a good final day are dashed when the snowstorm brings business to a halt by mid-afternoon. A quiet but absorbing novel.
    johnr97397 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I loved absolutely every moment of this book! The store manager, Manny, and his crew, really began to resonate with me. I missed them all when the book ended. I have a new found respect for busy restaurant chains and their managers.