Tonight I hosted Stewart O'Nan at the bookstore for his new book, Last Night at the Lobster. It's compact little book about a manager of Red Lobster in New Britain, CT on the the last night the restaurant is open for business.
What I really appreciate about this book is the complete lack of irony in it's setting, as well as the lack of that saccharine void of sanctimonious drivel which sometimes accompanies stories of the working class. This isn't about class. This is about putting your head down and getting through the day.
What I love is the true suburbanness of setting it in a vaccuous chain restaurant, not some cute mom & pop diner romantically imagined by the author. Those places barely exist anymore, and terrible chains were where (and sometimes still are) we would end up as a default because of their familiarness, a familiarness I can't happily name. It's a sad fact, but absolutely real. Here is a little explanation of Stewart's motivations -
Q. 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.
This is a truly hopeless dirge in the most familiar of ways.
In the end, the manager goes on to work at the Olive Garden.
How perfectly real.