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Sweetbitter Paperback – April 4, 2017
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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NATIONAL BEST SELLER
“Outstanding.” —Gabrielle Hamilton, The New York Times Book Review
“Vivid and exquisite.” —NPR
“[A] heady first taste of self-discovery, bitter and salty and sweet.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Meticulously rendered.” —Los Angeles Times
“Ravishing. . . . It tantalizes, seduces, satisfies.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Smart, delicious. . . . A sexy, sweaty book of sensory overload.” —The Washington Post
“[Sweetbitter] is going to make a lot of people hungry.” .—The New York Times
“A heady mix of youth, love, gastronomic delights and determined self-invention. . . . [Danler] is a writer of prodigious talent.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A raw, shucked, pungent, wild love story.” —Marie Claire
“Sexy, astute. . . . Anyone who’s ever tied on an apron will think, ‘Finally, someone wrote a book about us.’ And nailed it.” —People
“This dynamite book is filled with the heart-wrenching indignities of self-discovery, and gives a gritty, inside look to the fast-paced, drug-filled, whirlwind scene of restaurant life.” —Bon Appétit
About the Author
Stephanie Danler is a writer based in Los Angeles, California.
Top customer reviews
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What this book is not:
It is not an inside look into the secrets of Union Square Cafe, one of Manhattan's top restaurants. The protagonist isn't ever in the kitchen. Also, it is not a "small-town girl struggles with the big city but stays true to herself so she can conquer her career and get the dreamy guy" book. It is definitely not a beach read.
What this book is:
An exceptionally well-written story of a smart but very troubled woman struggling to establish a life and make personal connections, and mostly failing. She comes of age the hard way, taking her lumps brought on by bad decisions and a toxic environment. She lacks the family support many take for granted, and her loneliness is expressed on almost every page. The pain and dysfunction are so intimately rendered, I would be shocked if the author didn't live much of it herself.
Some reviewers have criticized the lack of development of supporting characters, notably the love interest, Jake. This may be a valid critique, but I am going to argue that this may by intentional by the author. A central struggle in this book is the narrator's inability to form true, enduring interpersonal connections that extend beyond the moment, despite her desperation to do just that. The secondary characters are seen through the narrator's eyes, she never gets to see their hidden selves. The aren't well developed because they never let her in.
Some reviewers have also complained that there are no likable characters. If you need a hero protagonist who does always the right thing, this is not the book for you - this a grown-up book with realistic people, who (gasp!) make bad decisions. There are multiple accounts of drug use and sex, and if reading about that upsets you, then this won't be for you. But this is not a book about drugs or sex, and both appear realistically, not gratuitously.
Not every book is for every person. I loved this book, and will be thinking about it for a long time.
But mostly, the tension in the book is all contrived. The main character is young and naive, stays up too late, drinks too much, does too many drugs, and sleeps with the wrong men. And yet, this is presented as a HUGE LIFE CHANGING CRISIS instead of most people's experience at age 22. She falls in with two of her coworkers, one a slightly jaded, slightly mysterious older woman (who is actually kind of pitiable, not really having a life outside of the restaurant where she's worked for 15 years - but who the narrator comes to obsess over) who earnestly does things like call her "little one." The other is a slightly mysterious bartender who doesn't seem to have any discernible personality whatsoever outside of taking her for granted - and yet is the LOVE OF HER LIFE. The two coworkers she's obsessed with have an ambiguous and close relationship, and you know from the start that she's going to lose as she can never be as important to them as they are to each other.
Mostly the book is just extremely overwrought. I imagine it would have some appeal to people who themselves were/are servers, but there's both too much book (at 350 pages) and yet not enough plot to be truly enjoyable.
Basic premise: Newbie New Yorker, twenty-two year old Tess, is ushered into the world of a celebrated downtown restaurant along with all its chaos, the fast-moving environment, and its sexy and complex characters. What follows are the many growing pains for Tess, quite an education.
And Tess draws in the reader—even through her unreliable behavior—so complicated, so real: the reader is Tess.
Danler nails the yearning, pleasure and pain that comes with growing into one’s self, especially having to navigate the social, economic, and psychological environment of a seductively intoxicating place like New York City, which can make you feel joyfully satiated in one moment then cause you to vomit in the next. In this sense, Danler’s characters are familiar yet they are rendered with great specificity of detail; even minor characters are multi-dimensional.
Sweetbitter is poetic while being non-pretentious, highly accessible to any reader; a romantic yet realistic style and tone layered in rich details for all the senses. While reading, I gained quite an education about food and wine, and literally was made hungry and thirsty.
Also, while reading I kept thinking of two favorites: the Virginia Woolf (of her style and tone) and also, a particular novel I adore, Gustave Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education.
Excited to see all that follows for Stephanie Danler, as this is a stunning debut novel.
And P.S. It’s no wonder at all that this delicious novel has been picked up for a TV series set to air on the STARZ network beginning in May 2018. I’m in!
The food is talked about with adjectives but not at all described. The characters are flat and boring.
To get a feeling for restaurant life and the people, I would rather read Anthony Bourdain anytime.