Something odd recently occurred in Judy’s “reading world”.The last two books I chose to read both began with the words “Last Night….”. OK-not exactly earth-shattering odd but still….it struck me as a little strange when I realized what I had done.
My first choice came about because I’ve been wanting to read something by Stewart O’Nan. In researching his novels Last Night at the Lobster kept coming up as one of his better works. (And seriously, can you really resist a book titled Last Night at the Lobster??) The other novel, Last Night in Twisted River has been on my to-read list since it was published in 2009, and since John Irving just released another new book, I thought it was a good time to revisit a favorite author.
Even though the two titles begin the same, these two books couldn’t be more different. O’Nan’s book is only 146 pages in length and honestly, not a lot happens in that short space. Irving’s book is 554 pages of non-stop action and twists and turns and character development. That’s not to say that one is better than the other…they are just very very different. “Lobster’s” story takes the title quite literally—the whole story takes place over the course of one day—the last day this particular Red Lobster restaurant will be open for business.The last night in Twisted River that Irving’s title refers to is just a jumping off point for a myriad of events that span 5 decades and 2 countries.
O’Nan’s novel follows restaurant manager Manny DeLeon as he navigates his way through his final day on the job with an unhappy and soon to be unemployed crew of workers. Not surprisingly several haven’t even bothered to show up for their final shift. However, Manny is determined to carry on business as usual regardless of the raging blizzard outside, the disgruntled staff, several unreasonable customers, and a prevailing sense of doom and gloom. At times humorous, the story offers a poignant look at the mundane work-a-day world and a man who still takes pride in a job well done.
In Irving’s 12th novel, the reader is treated to a lengthy tale which chronicles the lives of the three main characters. Dominic is a logging camp cook, his beloved son Daniel who becomes an extremely prolific and successful author, and their friend and later protector, Ketchum, a fiercely independent logger and river-man make up the heart of the story. But the story is really about accidents and how they can change the course of a life in an instant. Mistaken identity, inexperience, carelessness, alcohol abuse, fear…these all contribute to accidents that continually change the story and the characters.
While this novel is a fascinating look at mid-century logging in northern New England, it’s also a story about a writer. I couldn’t help wondering how autobiographical it really is. So much happens in this novel, it would be impossible to share it all in a short blog. Characters appear, disappear, and later reappear as multiple plots interweave with each other. Irving keeps the reader guessing by never revealing the whole story of any character or plot at one time. He shares little nuggets of story, a piece at a time, until finally the whole tale has been told. And then he does it again, and again, and again!
So….two books similar in title but so very different in content. I found both to be interesting reads but for very different reasons. Last Night at the Lobster gets right to the heart of the matter—no fluff, no frills. Last Night in Twisted River takes you on a lengthy, yes, twisted journey that feels a bit like a ride on a roller-coaster.