Thursday, April 10, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster, By Stewart O'Nan, Viking-Penguin, 2007, $19.95.

Anyone who has worked a season or a year or more at a diner, a franchise restaurant, or a medium-sized retail store can relate to this gentle, brief (140 pages) story of one day - the final day - in the life of a failed Red Lobster in Connecticut.

Nothing much happens. A snowstorm. An unexpected party of 14. A child pukes. A few people quit. There's a brief power failure. Dom the bartender is exposed as a top row bottle thief. It's a slow day. I like art where nothing much happens, if it's economical. This is. Characterizations are thin, we never learn much about the restaurant staff. They don't even reminisce for us until the final pages. It was a pleasant bedtime read, two nights' worth.

Yet, the novel pissed me off. Why?
Because I'm convinced I could write a better one along the same lines, from personal experience, with more vividly drawn human beings with stories of their own to tell.
Because - let me look at the sidebar - there are at least five writers in my blogroll who could write a better novel from similar personal experiences.
& we wouldn't need to thank a list of people at the back of the book for explaining the mundane daily routines of the retail or restaurant businesses, or to tell us that most co-workers come & go, they're evil or stupid or wonderful, memorable & forgettable, & some employees are there on your first day & remain there long after you leave, maybe forever. & there are days you never, ever forget, but most days you can't recall a week later.
That's why.

So why haven't we written our novels?
Because we aren't Stewart fucking O'Nan.
Because in a decade of All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp nights we'd never find a literary agent who would read it & then sell it to Viking-Penguin.
Because over the years we've browsed through innumerable modest novels of finer quality than Lobster stacked on the remainder tables at Barnes & Noble & Borders with $1.99 stickers & black marker slashes across the top pages.
That's why.
Of course, I'm envious.


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