Death in Her Hands

The cover is in green, with the semi-profile of a woman in light blue; its edges are jagged as if pixilated on a flickering TV screen. At the very bottom of her profile, where the chin would be, is a tiny human silhouette in black, facing her as if approaching.

By Ben H.

“Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body” 

Vesta, the amazingly unstable 72-year-old narrator of Death in Her Hands, is my favorite of all of Ottessa Moshfegh’s growing roster of eccentric narrators. The main conceit of Death in Her Hands is that Vesta must solve a murder mystery. Before we know anything else about Vesta, we learn that she found a note in the woods (quoted above) and believes that she needs to solve the mystery (there is no body).  

Based solely on that note, Vesta envisions a detailed backstory for Magda and the murderer. She imagines one plausible idea after another and adds details until she’s created a truth that is incredibly real to her. A wild journey, Death in Her Hands occurs mostly inside Vesta’s head. Moshfegh immerses the reader so far into Vesta’s isolated, almost solipsistic, world that it’s jarring when Vesta interacts with anyone other than her dog Charlie. She must interact with others because her investigation takes her all around her small Northeastern town. She visits the public library, picks up a hitchhiker, visits odd neighbors, runs from wild animals, and finds clues. As she finds clues about the murder, she drops clues about her own mysterious past.

The book is a murder mystery, and Moshfegh plays with that genre and those tropes, but it is also a psychological drama. Moshfegh is an accomplished writer who gives the reader enough information to know that Vesta is not trustworthy, but not enough information to completely dismiss the murder as a figment of her imagination. At times Death in Her Hands reads more like Woolf’s The Waves or Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49Vesta’s thoughts carry us like waves; and her investigation doesn’t always make sense, but it always almost makes sense.

It’s easy to believe Vesta. She’s likable and very persuasive.
You almost believe that she’s solved the mystery! 
…Then you realize that you aren’t sure that there ever was a note. 

The book explores mental health, aging, abusive relationships, and isolation. Those don’t sound like cheery topics, but Vesta is a funny narrator, and she makes it an enjoyable ride: “My God, he could be crouched behind the kitchen door, and there you’d be, standing in your socked feet and bathrobe, agog at the knife glinting in the rack. Had you used it to chop onions? Had you forgotten that you’d wandered down for a midnight snack, left the knife out, et cetera? Were you still dreaming? Was I?” 

Moshfegh is a master of cultivating a dreamlike quality (she nailed it in McGlue as well). When everything seems off, it’s hard to know if anything is real. If you like dark, brilliant, insightful, inventive writing, I think you’d enjoy Death in Her Hands.

P.S. This is ostensibly a review of Death in Her Hands, but it’s really a recommendation to go read ANY Ottessa Moshfegh (she’s incredible). If you’re looking to have a weird weekend, pick up a bunch of Moshfegh from your local library and get lost in her wild world.  Also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook via Libby/OverDrive.

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

The Switch

The book cover, in pastel shades of green, yellow, lavender, and pink, shows an older woman in a black cloche hat and yellow top in the upper right-hand corner, standing in front of an apartment building, and a younger woman in jeans and a flowing white top with a bag over her shoulder, walking a dog on a farm in the lower left-hand corner.

By Eliana H.

This is the third year I’ve participated in The Ridiculous Reading Challenge, an activity co-organized by some good friends of mine in which they combine the annual reading challenges set by several publications into one spreadsheet full of categories to inspire participants to stretch our reading habits. For 2021, there are 117 different categories. Wish me luck in managing a unique book for each of them!

When one of the friends who runs the Ridiculous Reading Challenge mentioned enjoying The Switch, by Beth O’Leary, I was excited to note that it took place at least partly in Yorkshire. With family and friends living there, as well as it being a beautiful place, I knew it would be a perfect fit for the category of “a book set somewhere you’d like to visit in 2021.” Yorkshire is definitely the top of my list for where I want to visit when it’s safe for my family to do so. What I didn’t know when my friend shared the book was how much I would love the story.

The Switch tells the tale of two Eileen Cottons – a grandmother and her granddaughter, who goes by Leena – both feeling a bit stuck in their lives. They’ve struggled since the loss of Carla, Leena’s sister and Eileen’s other granddaughter. After a panic attack at work, Leena is given a mandatory two-month vacation from her job as a business consultant. At loose ends about what to do with that time when she should be finding her way back to herself, she ends up suggesting that she and her grandmother swap lives for two months. Eileen makes her way down to London for the adventure she didn’t get the chance to have in her youth, and Leena heads north to Yorkshire to slow down and take over the responsibilities Eileen has in her small village. Neither woman has quite the experience she expected, but both learn quite a lot about themselves and the people around them during their sojourns. With a cast of lively supporting characters, it is a joy to follow Eileen and Leena on their journeys. The book made me chuckle and choke up in turn, and I’m so glad to have read it. I hope you will be too.

The Switch is also available from HCLS as an eBook from Libby/OverDrive. Beth O’Leary is also the author of The Flatshare and The Road Trip (available from Libby/OverDrive as an eBook and eAudiobook).

Eliana is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).

Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment

by Aimee Z.

The cover of Heroic Measures shows the cityscape of New York, fading from deep gray-blue at the top to a reddish-orange near the bottom, with the title, author's name, and a silhouette of a dachshund in white superimposed in the foreground.

Septuagenarians Ruth and Alex Cohen have made a momentous decision: they are going to sell their Lower East Side flat in one of the Big Apple’s most desirable locations. According to their realtor, they’ll easily net a million dollars, which is enough to retire with their precious and equally senior dachshund, Dorothy. In their tiny kitchen, Alex wearing his hearing aids and Ruth in her serious bifocals study the open house listing due to appear online in a matter of hours as two calamitous events occur.

Over the radio, a news alert interrupts the broadcast. A large truck in the Midtown Tunnel has overturned. Traffic in Manhattan is suddenly gridlocked. The driver, now deemed a suspected terrorist, has fled, heightening domestic security all the way to Queens.

Ruth and Alex smirk and shake their heads. Ruth, in her heyday, and Alex by association, was once considered a Communist threat; a schoolteacher in her perky beret and peep-toe pumps who’d somehow found herself on the FBI’s secret enemy list.

But their moment of musing about the past is soon shattered with the appearance of Dorothy. The little dog lets out an ear-piercing howl, and to her parents’ horror, Dorothy’s bottom goes out. A race to the vet ensues, and despite the snarl of traffic, news anchors on the scene, and a now significant anti-terrorism military component, Ruth and Alex manage to get Dorothy to the pet ER.

There, they learn that Dorothy has slipped a disc and needs surgery. Devastated, Ruth and Alex return home to their landline ringing. Their euphoric realtor informs them that a bidding war is already brewing on their apartment. With their dog in the hospital, Ruth and Alex must now contend with an open house.

A parade of prospective buyers pours in the next day. Trend-setting young gentrifiers with way too much money, they tramp through the dated apartment speaking offhandedly about gutting everything – especially Alex’s beloved art studio. One woman in boots, eager to feel the apartment’s embrace, plops down on the couple’s bed, lotus-style, waiting to see if her restraints of self-centeredness dissipate.

It’s all completely hilarious, but it’s Dorothy who steals the show. In the hospital, recovering from surgery, she suspects the vet and his team of conspiracy – all over a mysterious wee-wee pad! Heroic Measures takes readers on a clever, satisfying journey, so wry and wicked, at one point I laughed out loud – startling my own dogs.

Heroic Measures is the basis for the film 5 Flights Up, starring Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton and available as a DVD from HCLS.

Aimee Z., now retired, was part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

The title appears against a painting of a green landscape and blue sky with white clouds, with a silhouette of a girl leading a horse and cart in the bottom left

By Jean B.

I love a book with a map, so News of the World captured me even before page one. Throughout my reading, I pored over the sepia endpaper map of Texas circa 1870, with its bright red line tracing a path from Wichita Falls along the northern border with Indian territory, all the way down to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. As you might guess, given the map, this is a book about a journey – across both rough territory and psychological barriers. As the characters made their way along the bright red line, Giles’ beautiful prose transported me into this time and place and into the lives of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, age 71, and Johanna Leonberger, age 10.  

It’s the Reconstruction era in Texas, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, random violence and unexpected kindness, across an incredibly varied landscape. Captain Kidd, a survivor of three wars, has dedicated his life to connecting people through information. He is alone, having lost his wife and his printing business in the Civil War. Kidd now makes his living by traveling through small towns, performing live readings of newspapers from around the country and the world to isolated residents hungry for stories of faraway places and remarkable events. Suddenly, his nomadic routine is disrupted by an unsought responsibility – he must deliver Johanna, a traumatized orphan who has lived as a captive of the Kiowa tribe for six years and knows no other family, back to her relatives near San Antonio. Traversing that 400 mile path, the characters must overcome challenges small and large and, in the process, build mutual trust and companionship.

I would not call myself a fan of Westerns, in either novels or movies, but Paulette Jiles’ exquisite descriptions of the plants, weather, and settlements of this landscape drew me in. Her writing made me want to ride a horse through the hills, canyons, and prairies of Texas (minus the deadly threats along the way). Maybe I’ll do that someday, but in the meantime, luckily, we can get the visual experience by watching the 2020 movie based on the book! Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, the movie garnered four Oscar nominations, and you borrow the DVD from HCLS.  

While both the book and the movie open a window into a beautiful yet treacherous moment in Texan history, News of the World goes much deeper than a travelogue. Across the miles, the tragic characters discover the power of empathy to leap differences in age, language, experience and loss. Although the book is barely 200 pages, it paints a picture of great historical and personal complexity. If you’re looking for some armchair traveling this summer, News of the World is a journey worth taking – and it comes with a map!

Available in print, large print,audio CD,  ebook, and eaudio, as well as DVD.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. A fan of historical fiction and nonfiction, she also enjoys exploring the natural world through books and on foot.

Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam

The cover shows tree branches in a dark silhouette with a dark blue sky, with the corner of a turquoise swimming pool and a lighter blue diving board with triangular metal handles in the foreground. The title, in block letters, is in complimentary shades of turquoise and blue.

by Aimee Z.

Is allyship a myth?  

Rumaan Alam explores this and more in his astute and fascinating third novel, Leave The World Behind. It begins simply enough:  A white Brooklyn family leave their hipster digs for an Airbnb week in the Hamptons. Like many Americans, Amanda, Clay, and their two teens view a beach vacation as an entitlement. It must be perfect – down to the SPF that won’t hinder your tanning goal.  

En route, Amanda orders Clay to stop at a small grocery store where she buys staples for the week: sustainable napkins, sourced maple syrup, even, Alam slyly adds, that “politically virtuous ice-cream, Ben and Jerry’s.” They pull up to the modest beach cottage and are delighted with the view of the water, a hot tub – even a pool. They barbecue, break out a $12 bottle of wine, swim – Amanda and Clay even have vacation sex that night.  Everyone falls into a blissful sleep as you, the reader, curl up with what feels like another mindlessly generic beach read.  

Then: there’s the proverbial knock at the door. It wasn’t a good thing for Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, and it surely can’t be for Amanda and Clay. They know that the only good door knock anyone ever gets is from an Amazon delivery driver. Eventually, Clay peeks through the chained door and is greeted by an elderly African-American couple: G.H. and Ruth. 

Calmly and politely, they explain that they are the owners of the Hampton vacation house that Amanda and Clay are enjoying. Amanda clutches her phone, Alam writes, like it’s a soft toy. She’s convinced they are scammers. Worse, this is a home invasion – especially when G.H. and Ruth cook up some lie that all of Manhattan (where they were staying) has succumbed to a total blackout. 

Suddenly, that beach read you thought you were enjoying has become something entirely different – its focus now a witty and revealing spin on the social dynamics between black and white. And it is. Sort of. 

Eventually, G.H. and Ruth (over G.H.’s private stash of very old whiskey) convince Amanda and Clay that some kind of crisis must be taking place. No internet, a consistently blue TV screen, as well as dead cell phone reception are worrisome though not alarming – until Amanda and G.H. spot a flock of pink flamingos in the pool and an unearthly sound, capable of chaos, brings them all to their knees. 

Eloquent and urgent, especially as we come out of this last and devastating year, Leave the World Behind is the one book everyone must read. 

Leave the World Behind is also available at HCLS as an ebook and an eaudiobook through Libby/OverDrive.

Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.

Author Works with Daniel Silva

Photo credit: Marco Grob. Author wears a dark jacket, a white shirt, and black framed glasses. He leans against a wall with his arms folded
Photo credit: Marco Grob

by Kristen B.

ONLINE EVENT: Wed Jul 21 7 – 8 pm
Register at hclibrary.org > classes & events

WIN A BOOK!  One hundred lucky Zoom (randomly selected) attendees will win a hardback copy of The Cellist by Daniel Silva. Book giveaway sponsored by Friends & Foundation of HCLS.

What do you consider ideal summer reading? Do you dive into doorstop-sized classics or do you look for a bit of fun fluff to read in the sunshine? I think summer is a great time to fall into a series and get to know one set of characters. Sometimes, it’s the perfect time to re-acquaint myself with a long-running series that I’ve let languish.

Such is the case with Daniel Silva’s spy thriller series featuring Gabriel Allon, which began in 2000 with The Kill Artist. Gabriel Allon may be the perfect action-adventure hero. Honestly, I’m surprised there isn’t a film franchise yet. He’s darkly handsome, desperately in love with his young beautiful wife, has a tragic, haunting background, and works as an art restorer of Renaissance paintings. He resides in a cliffside cottage in Cornwall and goes for long brooding walks between missions. What’s not to love?!

About those missions: Gabriel Allon is also an operative for the Israeli version of the CIA (referred to in the books as The Office), and he travels the world with his trusted team protecting the safety and integrity of his homeland against all sorts of criminals, politicians, terrorists, and other nefarious folks. This series never disappoints with books set in Germany, France, Switzerland, the Vatican and Italy, Israel, Afghanistan, Russia, and the US. Often, many of those countries are involved in one story’s whirlwind, time-racing plot. As with many books in this genre, these are not for the faint of heart, as they contain graphic violence and hard people making hard decisions, most of whom will do anything to advance their own agendas and desires.

As I mentioned above, I plan to spend this summer jumping back into this series since I’m a couple of books behind. The last one I read, The Black Widow, published in 2016, is probably the best spy thriller I’ve ever read. It encompasses modern geopolitics, ancient grudges, double agents, and enough heart-pounding action that I’m pretty sure I lost sleep to finish it. The books are also excellent audiobooks, if you prefer to listen (beware the inevitable point of not being able to stop the story, though).

Book cover for The Cellist: A woman wearing a bright red coat and high black heels walks with her back to the reader. The cover is a bright blue that fades to black along the edges.

So, I invite you to join me at an upcoming Author Works event with author Daniel Silva! His newest novel (being published July 13), The Cellist, follows up the acclaimed #1 New York Times bestsellers The Order, The New Girl, and The Other Woman with a riveting, action-packed tale of espionage and suspense. The fatal poisoning of a Russian billionaire sends Gabriel Allon on a dangerous journey across Europe and into the orbit of a musical virtuoso who may hold the key to the truth about his friend’s death. The plot Allon uncovers leads to secret channels of money and influence that go to the very heart of Western democracy and threaten the stability of the global order. The Cellist is a breathtaking entry in Daniel Silva’s “outstanding series” (People magazine) and reveals once more his superb artistry and genius for invention—and demonstrates why he belongs, “firmly alongside le Carré and Forsyth as one of the greatest spy novelists of all time” (The Real Book Spy).

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.

Another Country

The Penguin Classic cover features red cut-outs of figures layered over a neutral background.
Penguin Classic edition

by Ben H.

“Beneath them Rufus walked, one of the fallen – for the weight of this city was murderous” 

James Baldwin

Another Country is a novel that’s more like a play or a poem. Short descriptions set scenes like flashes of light, and dialogue propels us through the story. James Baldwin is brilliant and empathetic; his depiction of humanity is beautiful. Passages that make you weep are followed immediately by passages that make you laugh. Dark episodes in the cold rain follow erotic passages in warm apartments. Baldwin’s relentless prose attack zigs and zags at the reader, and he never lets up. He pulls the threads of the tangled ball of relationships at the center of the novel tighter and tighter. Another Country is addictive and almost unbearably tense. 

Baldwin explores race, gender, sexuality, religion, art, and life in America in the 1950s through the interactions of a group of memorable characters. First, we meet Rufus Scott, a black jazz drummer, stumbling out of a movie theater in New York, disheveled and desperate. His experience as a black man in America is really the central pillar of the story. His wretched love/hate relationship with Leona, a white woman from the south, ruins both of their lives and sets a grim tone for a serious book. Vivaldo, a white man, is arguably the main character. Vivaldo is a struggling writer and Rufus’ best friend. Vivaldo is everywhere. He felt to me like a stand-in for James Baldwin himself.

France offers the reader a brief respite from the grimness of New York. We first meet Eric and his boyfriend Yves on a French beach. The passages set abroad are lovely and warm, while the scenes in New York are often brutal and freezing or unforgiving and sizzling. Baldwin’s depiction of France juxtaposed with that of America neatly illustrates the way Baldwin, a gay black man, felt in France versus the way he felt in the United States.

The many protagonists provide a narrative richness I really loved. Besides Rufus and Vivaldo, Cass (maybe my favorite character), Ida (Rufus’s sister and an incredible character), and Eric (in his own way the heartbeat of the book) are the other main players in this story of relationships and race. The New York Times compared Another Country to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and I think it’s a great comparison. Baldwin also brings the furious pace of a sax solo to his poetic novel. If you want to know what it’s like to read Another Country, listen to “Countdown” off of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.

Another Country really does have a momentous heft to it. Baldwin, like an alchemical wordsmith, achieved something magical with everyday material. On the surface, it’s just the story of a few overlapping relationships during the 50s. But by the time you turn the last page, it feels like you’re holding something vital in your hands. I really do believe that books like this can change the way people view and treat one another.

If you’ve already read Another Country, visit HCLS and see if we have a Baldwin that you haven’t yet read (or if we can recommend something similar). If you haven’t read Another Country, you have money in the bank. You can’t go wrong with Mr. Baldwin.

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

The Other Black Girl

Photo of Zakiya Dalila Harris, with the book cover in the bottom right hand corner. Book features a black woman in profile, with her hair up in complex braids. The "I" in "Girl" is an afro hair-pick.

By Rohini G.

This book defies genre. Is it a sly satire or a hard-hitting social commentary? Is it a sharp page-turning thriller or contemporary literature at its best? A witty and playful debut or a manual for code-switching? I could not slot it into just one category. It is the book you will be discussing with your friends and neighbors. Right, Linda?

In blue round italics, "What was she going to do? Who was she going to be?"

Zakiyah Dalila Harris’s novel debuted as a Most Anticipated Book of 2021 by Time, The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Entertainment Weekly, Marie Claire, Bustle, BuzzFeed, Parade, Goodreads, Fortune, and the BBC. Deservedly so. The Other Black Girl is an electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Written with wit and incisive humor, this book delves into the modern corporate atmosphere with its microaggressions, isolation, and manipulations. Working at Wagner Books as the only black editorial assistant, Nella Rogers is very excited when one morning, she looks through a small crack in a cubicle and sees what she calls “the flash of a brown hand.” Enter Hazel-May McCall. Nella finds a confidante in Hazel and someone who finally gets it. But it doesn’t take long for Nella to realize there’s something off about Hazel, even if she can’t quite put her finger on it. And then, shortly after Hazel’s arrival, the first anonymous note arrives on Nella’s desk: “Leave Wagner Now.” Hazel? And if not Hazel, then who? Nella begins searching for answers—and in the process, finds herself at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that runs far deeper than she ever could have known 

I thoroughly enjoyed Zakiyah’s sparkling style of writing and her ability to paint office dynamics in nuanced shades of privilege and discrimination, while juggling an un-put-down-able mystery: a mystery that leaves your insides twisted at the end. In her review in The Washington Post, Naomi Jackson says, “One of the pleasures of “The Other Black Girl” is its unapologetic appeal to Black female readers. From references to 90s Black culture to ample servings of hair-related angst, conversations and plot points, Black girls will appreciate how their experiences, perspectives and quirks are centered in this novel.”

We are excited to host Zakiyah on June 23 at 7 pm. Listen to Zakiyah Harris and bring your questions. Register here

Rohini is the Adult Curriculum Specialist with HCLS. She loves literature and rainy days.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The book cover shows a brunette woman with red lips in profile against a blue background, with a frond of peach-colored leaves in the foreground. One of the leaves obscures her eye, which gives her a mysterious appearance.

By Gabriela P.

In 1926, Agatha Christie could have had Hercule Poirot, her own creation, scratching his head. Her 11 day disappearance has no credible explanation to this day, and remains shrouded in conjecture. In her book The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, novelist Marie Benedict gives readers an exhilarating glimpse into what Christie may have been like. It is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction that is truly an empowering tribute to one of the most sensational mystery writers of all time.

The book is set up with alternating chapters between the past and the present, with Agatha giving a heart-rendering account of her life through her early years and marriage to Archie (Col. Archibald). The shackles of social norms and expectations that governed her marriage shape reveal an unexpectedly tragic side to her that not many readers may have imagined. As the story turns to her disappearance and the ensuing search, the book becomes a captivating back and forth between her own reflections and the increasingly loathsome Archie’s. 

I have always admired Agatha Christie. In my youth, I was a faithful fan and read each and every one of her novels.  Not a single one failed to keep me glued to the pages until the very end with their delightful characters. Of course I dreamt of being like Hercule Poirot, with his sense of humor, knowledge of human emotions, and effortless  brilliance. I was often left trying to solve each of the mysteries alongside him as his imagined assistant… but of course my personal theories always ended up missing the mark completely!

With Benedict’s book, I was given the opportunity to imagine a brilliant but naive young Agatha stifled by society. How could someone so intelligent and capable of creating characters that rivaled Sherlock Holmes lose themselves in an impossible journey to be a perfect wife in a perfect marriage? Benedict’s writing led me to feel all of Agatha’s fear, love, and frustration while sharing her journeys that inspired so many of her prided and celebrated characters.

As with her previous novels, Marie Benedict does not disappoint. She is a master in picturing both famous and not-so-famous people in history with wonderfully-researched work and rich storytelling.

Also available to borrow as an eBook.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.

Last Night At The Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

The book cover, a photograph rendered in shades of black and white, is of a wintery night in a parking lot, with scattered lampposts with bright lightbulbs, a handful of cars, snow on the ground, and a solitary figure in black trudging towards a building. Across a snow-covered road in the distance are more trees, cars, and buildings.

by Aimee Z.

No one would understand more about the restaurant layoffs and closures of the 2020 pandemic than Manny DeLeon, the heart beat of Stewart O’Nan’s touching ode to America’s working poor, Last Night At The Lobster. I love anything by Stewart O’Nan, but this tiny, haunting novel – about the lives of a small, fractious kitchen staff, roasting, chopping, grilling, and frying for one last paycheck will stay with readers a long time.

It’s nearly Christmas, snowing hard, and all is bright – except at a run-down chain restaurant about to serve its last Seaside Shrimp Trio forever. O’Nan’s creation of Manny as the weed-smoking young kitchen manager who has impregnated two girlfriends (one of whom, he still desperately loves) is a marvel as the story’s hero.

He arrives in his beat-up old Buick Regal (think Uncle Buck) for his last long, grueling shift with two missions: rally the troops, including prep and line cook, sous chef and server, all the time praying the irascible guy who busts suds shows up at all. His other mission: get over to Zales and buy an engagement ring. I won’t tell you for whom.

As it turns out most of the Lobster’s staff does not come in, but a ragtag few, guided by pride and what’s left of morale, do. In the ramping up blizzard, customers (none of whom know the restaurant is closing) blow in, both the regulars and the ones from hell. 

Back in the kitchen, O’Nan captures the furious chaos of a diverse kitchen culture in action. They’re a close-knit group, all about to lose their jobs, and yet they endeavor to make this last bleak day a success. Even more poignant are the positively existential cigarette breaks – moments where exhausted staff, in their dirty aprons and spattered Doc Martens share their backstories. All of them have regrets. They’ve made mistakes and struggled most of their young lives to make ends meet. 

O’Nan has written a tender tale respectful of an America we often take for granted. If you’re like me and are sick of fiction about the mindset of affluent characters that spend their stories brooding in settings like Paris, New York, or L.A., you’ll love Last Night At The Lobster.

Last Night at the Lobster is also available from HCLS in ebook format from Libby/OverDrive.

Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.