Friday, January 25, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster

Funny name. Made me want to see what it was all about. Last Night at the Lobster by Stuart O'Nan is a story about Manny, the manager of a Red Lobster, and the last day the restaurant will be in business. Manny has been told that his restaurant is not meeting its number and therefore will close five days before Christmas. Manny and a few of his employees (that he hand-picked) are moving on to the Olive Garden, but unfortunately it's a demotion to assistant manager for Manny.

The side story to this depressing account is Manny's love for a waitress. O'Nan makes it obvious that the two had an affair and that Manny still has strong feelings for Jackie, but he also has a pregnant girlfriend to go home to.

The overall tone is very dry and instead of feeling sorry for the main character, I found him a bit pathetic. As short as the book was, the author definitely defines the emotions and personalities of the characters and what they are expecting from life. Though it wasn't a very exciting read, I enjoyed the writing style; smooth and flowing, and am interested in reading another of Stuart O'Nan's books. I think I will add A Prayer for the Dying to my list.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Back in October, I sang the praises of my friend for buying me a signed, first-edition of Run. Finally, I had a chance to read it (Eat, Pray, Love really took a long time to finish!).

It's no secret what a fan I am of Ann Patchett. Bel Canto is on my top ten list of great books. So the bar is set pretty high. Run takes place in about a 24-hour time span, and I read it nearly as fast. It was easy for me to get involved in the Doyle family's lives. I found it very interesting that with only a short time to get to know the characters, I was just as pleased as if I had read about years of their lives.

The story involves a widower, his birth son and two adopted sons. Surprisingly, Bernard Doyle's oldest is not who makes him the happiest – instead it's the younger adopted black boys. What happens on this particular night changes the dynamic of the family forever. Again, with a limited timespan, Patchett is able to go into great length with each person's life. And normally I find that books rush through the last chapter or two to neatly wrap up and end the story, but I was quite satisfied with the way Run ended, the openings it left and the answers it provided. I can't say any more without giving too much away. Run doesn't replace Bel Canto as my favorite by Ann Patchett, but it was definitely a great story.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Good Dog. Stay.

I love Anna Quindlen's writing. I often think of a great book she wrote about ten years ago called Black and Blue. It was one of those great reads that went from me to my mom to my sister to my grandmother in the matter of about a month. Each one of us liked it so much that we had to share it with the next. So needless to say, I try to stay current with her novels.

When I saw her newest book, a retrospective about her dog, I wasn't sure what to expect. I borrowed Good Dog. Stay. from the library on CD and it was 45 minutes long. So last night as I was stuck in a post-rush hour traffic jam, I was able to listen to the whole thing.

I grew up with dogs. When I think of the two I had in my young life, I can easily be brought to tears from all the happy and not-so-happy memories. We are able to bring dogs to work. Outsiders think this is a fantastic benefit, and it is, but my allergies make it so that I pretty much sneeze all day long. And while I love dogs, the intermittent barking throughout the day is enough to make me lose my mind. Regardless, I still love the only living creature that will give you unconditional love.

So Quindlen's story about her family's dog truly hit a chord with me. Her children grew up and then out of the house with him. They would come home from college and Beau would remember them with one sniff. And when it was time for Beau to be put down, each child made sure he or she was there for his last breath. Quindlen's words were so poignant, that in about 20 minutes I felt like the dog was my own. It's difficult to drive and cry! But this book is absolutely worth the 45 minutes (or approx. 95 pages).

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

First, I need to thank my friend, Carolyn, for a wonderful birthday celebration. Though it was back in October, this book was the basis of the theme for this year's birthday. I was in the middle of another book at the time, but as soon as I finished it, I began Eat, Pray, Love. This one took me quite a while to read, but it was well worth it.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes her memoir in three sections. She was lucky enough to afford an opportunity to travel to three destinations and stay away for nearly a year. This desire to "escape" from her daily life stemmed from a horrible divorce, another break up, and an overall early mid-life crisis.

The first place she traveled was Italy. Her love of the language and the food is what took her. The way she describes the food she ate was so vivid and wonderful. In the three or so months she was there, she gained 23 pounds! She also wanted to learn the language and worked with a young Italian man in a sort of exchange program. She taught him English and he taught her Italian. Gilbert has a very dry sense of humor that I loved to read. I often found myself laughing out loud. After only a few pages, I was quoting a line that referred to a vegetarian friend of hers who eats bacon. It was that kind of unusual wit that I really enjoyed.

Next, she was off to India to spend time in an Ashram and learn from her Guru. Honestly, I struggled with this section the most. I thought she was physically going to enhance her yoga practice, when in fact she was learning the spiritual side of yoga. I hear that there are women who have read this book and it has changed their lives. Personally, I had a hard time buying into the non-Christian views that she was taught. In the end however, she was at peace and spending time meditating and praying was exactly what she needed to help heal her mind and soul. The most interesting part of her Indian journey for me was her relationship with a man from Texas who called her "Groceries." He gave her this name after having dinner with her the first night they met and noticing how much she can eat. Richard was the bright spot in a pretty heavy, intense section of the book.

Finally, it was off to Indonesia to spend time in Bali with a medicine man she had met a few years before. I found this section to be very entertaining. The medicine man was a genuine, peaceful man who was somewhere between 65 and 112 years old. In her time with him, she was never able to get any closer than that. He taught her different ways to meditate which included "smiling in your liver." This was much more believable for me. She also met a woman who was a healer too and their relationship was truly fascinating to read about. I also enjoyed learning about Bali and the Balinese culture. It was in Bali that she met a Brazilian man and fell in love (after much resistance). And at least as the book ended, they were planning on making a very long distance relationship work. She was recently on Oprah, and once I watch that I will hopefully find out if they are still together!

Without giving too much away, I would highly recommend Eat, Pray Love. Maybe you will get a more spiritual connection from it than I did, but even if not, Elizabeth Gilbert is an intelligent, witty writer.