Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
What’s it about?
This is a much written about new author. I have really been looking forward to this one because it has gotten so much hype. Tess is 22-years-old and ready to break out of her ho-hum life. She sets off for New York City and finds herself with a job as a backwaiter in a famous NYC restaurant. We watch Tess's self awareness grow as she explores relationships with two food industry veterans. This story is as much about the food industry as it is about Tess.
What did it make me think about?
I was wowed by Stephanie Danler. She is truly a gifted writer. The hype almost always hurts you though. I was expecting spectacular! Unfortunately, I felt her writing was sometimes better than her story. Tess got old for me. Too many nights sniffing cocaine in bathroom stalls, too many blackouts, and not enough moments that made me understand her decisions. The backstory about the restaurant was great though. I certainly was embarrassed to recognize myself in this paragraph, "I approached table 49. They were the hungry sort of guests who had spotted me from across the room and were beckoning me with their anxiety. I tried to smile Calm down, I have your fucking food, you're not going to fucking starve to death, it is a restaurant for fuck's sake." Paragraphs like that made the book well worth it.
Should I read it?
If you have any interest in the high-end restaurant world, really like stories about young women making stupid choices, or just like beautiful paragraphs then I would recommend it. I wish Tess had been more fully drawn out, because the background was fascinating. All the praise is justified when you read paragraphs like this, "The ramifications of my fall down the stairs appeared on my left hip, my lower back, my cheek from where the entree plate hit me. The bruises bubbled to the surface of my skin before they colored. My skin like that of a nearly liquified nectarine, the pulp rolling around under the thin surface. If you bit it, the whole thing would burst."
I will be waiting for her next book.
"Everything was over my head. The senior servers, the bartenders especially, had doctorates in talking shit to guests. They could skim any topic. You couldn't stump them. The briefness of these interactions meant their casual expertise was never exposed as groundless."
Has anyone read Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential"? I am thinking that may be another good look at the world behind the menu's???
If you like this try-
Open City by Teju Cole
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfagh
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by Ryan Stradal
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
7 1/2 stars
some favorites of the last decade
best of winter 2020
best of summer/fall 2019
best of winter/spring 2019
best of summer/ fall 2018
best of winter/spring 2017-18
best of spring/summer 2017
best of winter
best of summer 2014
last spring favorites
on my nightstand
edge of your seat
― Charles William Eliot
3 to 4- I found some aspect of this book redeeming but would not recommend it.
5 to 6- I really enjoyed something about this book (characters, plot, meaning etc.) but it was uneven. Some aspects were stronger than others.
7 to 8- It was a good book. I liked lots of aspects of this book. I would recommend it.
9 to 10- I was sorry to turn the last page. I highly recommend this book!