Finishing a book just before work is not a performance-enhancing activity. In addition to organizing myself for a punctual, presentable appearance, today I struggled to shift my concentration from one workplace to another. I may be employed by the library, but this morning found me grilling shrimp, re-stocking the bar, and serving cheddar biscuits at Red Lobster.
Mentally, that is. While reading book group selections is sometimes an act of duty, this time I was glad for the necessity of moving Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster to #1 on my monumental "want to read" list. Published in 2007, ...Lobster offers multiple attractions, including brevity (146 pages), author reputation, and unusually tight focus. The premise--the last night before a seen-better-days Red Lobster franchise shuts down--works on multiple levels. In the process of recounting just a few hours, this doomed-restaurant scenario sets up some intriguing questions. Who will show up and who won't? What opportuntities are provided for the potentially unemployed staff? What weird interactions will the nothing-to-lose situation prompt among staff and customers? And, by the way, what kind of workflow keeps a Red Lobster profitably dispensing seafood on a daily basis?
This last question is a real draw for me, as I am fascinated by the inner workings of business enterprises. O'Nan's narration of the manager's opening routine, kitchen workflow, and seating strategies would have entertained me sufficiently. However, his manager's-eye view of co-workers and customers, filtered through Manny's empathetic gaze, proves that the human element is O'Nan's real forte in this book.
With its fully realized inner world, ...Lobster creates the sort of social laboratory that science fiction readers appreciate. Character vignettes would interest serious fiction fans, and the social/economic context of the story has definite documentary appeal.