Newly arrived in New York City, twenty-two-year-old Tess lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. What follows is the story of her education: in champagne and cocaine, love and lust, dive bars and fine dining rooms, as she learns to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing life she has chosen. As her appetites awaken—for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging—Tess finds herself helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. In Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler deftly conjures with heart-stopping accuracy the nonstop and high-adrenaline world of the restaurant industry and evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, and the fragility and brutality of being young in New York.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Publication Date: May 24, 2016 by Knopf
“I still like Dave Matthews Band,” he said. “That’s kind of embarrassing.”
“No,” I said. “Nothing you do is ever embarrassing. You’re not a girl.”
I LOVED this book and it’s yet another one that I put off starting because of such strong and scathing reviews (just like Emma Cline’s The Girls– a novel I ended up obsessing over).
Is it pretentious? Yes, but in that way that only seems appropriate for a coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old woman who has just moved to New York City on a whim. Tess’ story made me reminisce a bit of how fun it can be to be that young and naive, but at the same time made me appreciative of everything I’ve learned since then. While I couldn’t necessarily relate to Tess now, I could see aspects of my younger self in her and her struggles (mistaking sex for romance, accepting that you have a lot to learn about food, wine, life, etc.) and that made me root for her.
I also really liked Simone’s character. Yes, there’s a seriously frigid aspect to her personality, but that made me love her more. On the surface, Simone embodied everything that a younger woman could only hope to grow into – intelligent, confident, worldly and with a seriously badass apartment in the city. It was easy to see why Tess could so quickly fall under her spell and both envy/adore her (and perhaps ignore her seriously creepy relationship with Jake).
For the same reasons I will never tired of Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, Sweetbitter spoke to my endless hunger for good food, better wine, and new experiences. It encouraged me to be more courageous and curious at my local wine shop and to also reminisce about mussels in Nice, camembert in Cannes, and the freshest sushi I’ve ever had in Osaka. It seems just a bit too easy to write off this novel as pretentious when so many of us are always craving new experiences – whether that’s through travel, food, drink, or even just through the books we read.