There are writers out there that You Should Read. Names like Donna Tartt and David Foster Wallace come to mind. Within the horror genre you have Peter Straub and Stephen Graham Jones.

A big name writer I always meant to read is Stewart O'Nan. I've heard nothing but great things about his books. His 2003 novel, The Night Country, got a lot of attention in the horror world. The book was touted as a nostalgia-tinged ghost story, like something a modern Ray Bradbury might write. Nothing could sound more perfect to me. I got The Night Country from the library, and I tried to read it. I found myself stonewalled in the first chapter.

Later I was blown away by the film version of O'Nan's Snow Angels. I wanted to read the novel, and I bought a copy. I tried to read it, but it failed to hold my interest.

It has always bothered me. Obviously Stewart O'Nan is a respected writer. People whose opinions I implicitly trust swear by his work. The critics adore him. I fancy myself an astute reader. Why don't I see what others see?

I always meant to get back to O'Nan's work. One that intrigued me is Last Night at the Lobster. A story about a working guy soldering on during the last night before a Red Lobster restaurant closes sounds exactly like the type of story for me. Plus it takes place during a snowstorm just a few days before Christmas.

I finally got a copy of Last Night at the Lobster and I started it this morning.

Sadly, I did not get far. Oh, the man can write. Of that there is no doubt. Unfortunately I did not like the character. At all.

I'm no stranger to books with unlikable characters. An all-time favorite writer of mine, Paul Theroux, has practically specialized in them. I just don't want unlikable, uninteresting characters in a book.

The character in Last Night at the Lobster comes off as a schmo, a bit of a dullard, and more than a bit of a douche. He's got a pregnant girl at home, but lusts after a waitress.

Maybe, no, almost certainly, Stewart O'Nan brings humanity to his protagonist. I just don't feel inclined to stick around to find out.

You want to read a book about average working class types that will hit you like a sledge hammer to the head? Try Richard Price's Bloodbrothers.

It still bothers me a little, but not that much. Some writers, and good ones, are simply not for every reader. Three books are my limit. I tried three Stephen Graham Jones books, and got tired of forcing myself to go on. I've given up on trying Caitlín Kiernan books.

I know people who can't stand to read Peter Straub. And not necessarily the throw-up fiction bunch either. I adore his work. I've spoken to people who can't read Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, and Harlan Ellison. All enormous favorites of mine. I've even heard it about Robert McCammon and Joe R. Lansdale, as incomprehensible as that will seem to most genre readers.

In the case of Stewart O'Nan, I am positive the fault is mine. I can live with that. There is a world of books to enjoy, from the past, in the present, and coming up in the future.

Written by Mark Sieber

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