Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
Publication: May 24th 2016 by Knopf
Hardcover, 368 pages
Source: ARC gifted from a friend
“Let’s say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge…”
This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she’s come to New York to look for a life she can’t define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a “backwaiter,” on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she’s pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan’s ardor.
These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.
I think this is my favorite read of 2016 so far. I don’t think I’m ever going to feel the same way dining out at a nice restaurant. Tess leaves her childhood home and her life as she’s known it behind at 22 and heads to New York to find her adult path. She almost never looks back. She lucks into an apartment to share and a job at an unnamed restaurant in Union Square where she’s hired as a backwaiter. The training, the hazing, the bar towels, the wine, the food, the semi-incestuous staff relationships, the management, the FOOD, the drugs. So many things are going on in a restaurant and I had no idea!
Tess navigates new friendships and toxic relationships with the bravado and bluster every 22 year-old should have. She’s brave and she’s thoughtless and I just loved her story. The writing is intense and enthralling. I loved the slips into stream of consciousness as Tess lived out her days at the restaurant.
Once you admit you want things to taste like more or better versions of themselves – once you commit to flavor as your god – the rest follows. I started adding salt to everything. My tongue grew calloused, abraded, overworked. You want the fish to taste like fish, but fish times a thousand. Times a million. Fish on crack. I was lucky I never tried crack.
Read this with a glass of wine – skip the crack. Then come talk to me about it! I’m going to be reading this again soon and then hoping to be out at a great restaurant watching the staff.