Richard's Reviews > Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
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Jan 26, 2008

it was ok

Last Night at the Lobster owes what little effectiveness it has more to its three conceits than to skill or insight. First, it's narrated in the present tense, for a sense of immediacy. Second, it's set entirely in environments (a chain restaurant and a shopping mall) that are comforting by design. Third, the story takes place during a snow storm, for a sense of surreality and semi-isolation. O'Nan does little else to generate the mood on which the novel depends; in particular he provides few of the details that would have brought the settings to life, relying instead on the reader's familiarity with the locations.

The tone makes it obvious from the beginning that action and plot aren't going to be the point; we don't expect anything to happen, and nothing much ever does. This wouldn't be a problem if Lobster delivered what it should: character development, meaningful interaction, humor, insight. Unfortunately we get nothing more than we would get if we actually spent a day wandering around in a Red Lobster, voyeuristically eavesdropping on the very ordinary people working and dining there. Actually we get less; we learn nothing more about any of the characters than the bare essentials that define them as each is introduced, and we learn next to nothing about the minutiae of running a restaurant.

There's nothing wrong with celebrating the quotidian, but shouldn't that celebration be something more than a dull reflection?
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04/30 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Valerie I was just about to post my review of this book, and I was reading some reviews of what other people had to say, and especially yours because you didn't like it. Instead of clicking "more", I hit "Like this review?" by accident.

Well, your review is obviously well-written but I disagree with it... I really liked this book. I really felt for Manny at the end of the day when he finally pulled out of the parking lot, only to realize that he needed to come in the next day.

To make a long story short, I had a couple of glasses of wine, and accidentally liked your review.

(Please don't follow up and butcher my review. Yours is much better written, even though you made the mistake of not liking the book.)

Yours,

Valerie


Kenneth P. Three conceits? Choosing the present tense is a conceit? I find your review to be conceited. My guess is that you are the product of a conceited writing workshop.


Richard " Choosing the present tense is a conceit?"

Yup. One of the meanings of "conceit," per the OED, is "an artistic effect or device."

An astute reader would have deduced that I was using the word in an unfamiliar way, and (assuming they weren't lazy) looked it up.

"I find your review to be conceited."

How fatuous. A review can't be conceited. A person can be conceited but not a thing. The word you want is probably "pretentious."

"My guess is that you are the product of a conceited writing workshop."

Nope. I'm just naturally eloquent. Now that is "conceit" in the more common sense.


MountainShelby I just finished the book on audio and completely agree with this review. The characters were flat from start to finish. Without character development, this type of tale is little more than a newspaper feature.


John Eloquent as you are Mr. Spock (what an apt profile pic), I think you do not appreciate a great prose stylist when you read one. O'nan is a GREAT writer, and I enjoyed this novel as much as his weightier ones.


Richard Thanks John, I appreciate that.

But perhaps the problem is my poor comprehension of your Earth "emotions."


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