#71 ~ Last Night at the Lobster

May 22, 2008 at 9:46 pm | Posted in Books, Reading | 10 Comments
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Cover of Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novella. I actually can’t recall the last one I read. Stewart O’Nan certainly breathes life back into this genre for me with Last Night at the Lobster, the story of Manny, a New England Red Lobster manager coming to terms with the closing of his restaurant and the difficulty he has to comes to terms with any kind of closure in his life.

Manny is a model employee. He is somewhat of a perfectionist at work, strictly following company policy despite the fact that the current work day is the last his restaurant will be open. Those times during the day that he does bend policy, such as comping lunch for the staff who comes to work on that day, his conscience niggles at him afterwards. Although there is conflict in the workplace, he is a well liked as a manager even by those he isn’t taking with him to the Olive Garden in a nearby town. In fact, he’s equally shocked that those he isn’t taking with him showed up on that blizzard depressed day as he is by those promised continued work who did not.

Manny expends most of his energy over-analyzing the recent loses in his life – his beloved abuela, his position at the Red Lobster, and his somewhat illicit affair with Jackie, one of his employees. Despite the fact that he has Deena, a woman pregnant with his child, waiting for him to celebrate the holidays, he can’t help but think about Jackie and why on earth she showed up for the last day of work. He tries as best as he can to reconcile or at least find peace with his romantic and professional future, but his thoughts about the past are falling upon him as heavily as the snow.

Manny has a “table touch” approach to life. He glosses over issues that arise by making promises that are ultimately meaningless in order to bring about resolution. This might work well for him as a restaurant manager, but it underscores an emptiness he brings into his relationships with others. This is made most evident as he thinks rather allusively throughout the day about the pivotal moment in his relationship with Jackie. It is here that she made her choice to stop seeing him romantically. He sees only what her choice cost him, not what her choice cost her or why she made that decision in the first place.

I really enjoyed getting to know Manny through his obsessive thoughts and his interactions with his employees and patrons. There were times where I wished that I could have reached in and told him to completely pay attention to himself and what goes on around him. He already feels as though he does and that is what really makes him come to life for me. He tries his best and when that’s not good enough, he keeps trying. And this is what makes him a good manager, even on the last night at the Lobster.

To buy this book, click here.

#14 ~ The Cider House Rules

April 4, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Culture, My Life with Books, Reading | 2 Comments
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The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Of the 13 books that have preceded this, The Cider House Rules has been by far the hardest to read. The first 100 pages were more difficult than I had imagined. I never wanted to know what the inside of a uterus feels/sounds like when a D&C is completed successfully. I would imagine no one really does. At one point during Dr. Wilbur Larch’s journey from OB/GYN to OB/GYN and abortionist, I wanted to stop reading it. I decided that to honestly meet the challenge I had to finish every book I start. This isn’t about reading 52 books I will enjoy. For me, as a fast reader, there’s no challenge in that. So, I finished it. It’s a sad, sad book.

The protagonist, Homer Wells, begins life as an orphan as St. Cloud’s in Maine in the early mid-1900s. This is the orphanage in which Dr. Larch practices medicine. Attempts to adopt Homer failed. Homer preferred to be at St. Cloud’s. In order to be “of use,” Dr. Larch makes Homer his apprentice. Homer has a natural talent for medicine and successfully delivers a women suffering from sever eclampsia. During the course of his studies of Grey’s Anatomy and through dissecting adult female and infant cadavers, Homer comes to believe that the unborn have souls. He confronts Dr. Larch and refuses to be “of use” to him when he’s performing those procedures. Shortly thereafter, he leaves St. Cloud’s with Wally and Candy, a rich couple who traveled from the coast to get an abortion.

While living at Ocean View Orchards, Homer quickly falls in love with Candy and becomes an expert in farming an apple orchard. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, planned for the day that Homer would return and take over all aspects of “the Lord’s work.” St. Cloud’s Board of Directors was increasingly unhappy with him and as he grows older, the pressure to add staff to oversee all aspects of the orphanage continues to strengthen. He took the name of a deceased orphan and manipulated college and medical school records to make him a doctor. It’s is Dr. Larch’s hope that life experience will lead him back to St. Cloud’s and, if his beliefs cannot be changed, he will feel compelled to provide abortion services in a day and age when it is illegal.

This book is decidedly pro-choice. Still, there is no glorification of the procedure or those who perform them. Abortion is a consequence of the human condition and those who provide those services have their own weaknesses and crosses to bear. Irving took great effort to describe the procedures and its affects accurately. Women carrying the burden of an unplanned pregnancy do not leave the orphanage relieved of their burdens. In fact, Homer observes that their posture makes them look more weighted down. Dr. Larch uses the phrase “products of conception.” Eventually, Homer confronts him about this oversimplification. There is no sugar coating.

I believe that this story took place during World War II purposefully. It illustrated that there are forms of murder deemed as necessary and good by American society. There is no shame in killing the enemy or in losing a child to war. In fact, both may even be considered a duty and an honor. Many states in this country support the death penalty as a means for punishing its most heinous criminals. In both situations, keeping our society safe is found more important than the lives of individuals. Both sides of the abortion debate oversimplify or sugar coat the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Why are we afraid to address this issue head on and decide, as a society, whether abortion serves the greater good?

Although I believe that Irving intended to end this book with hope, I felt quite the opposite. It seems sad that the best our society has to offer women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is an abortion, an adoption, or a life as a single parent. Ensuring that all three of those options are available to women does not change the fact that – apparent rewards aside – they all bring about their own pain, feelings of loss, and heartache for everyone involved.

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