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Sweetbitter: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 24, 2016
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“Brilliantly written… Sweetbitter is the Kitchen Confidential of our time.”
—Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter and Prune, New York Times Book Review
“Danler’s sexy, astute debut is really a love story about the addictive pull of restaurant life… Anyone who’s ever tied on an apron will think, “Finally, someone wrote a book about us.” And nailed it.”
—People (book of the week)
“An unpretentious, truth-dealing novel… about hunger of every variety. Ms. Danler is a sensitive observer… and gifted commenter on many things. Sweetbitter is going to make a lot of people hungry.”
—Dwight Garner, New York Times
“… perfectly captures the raw possibility of a young woman’s first year in New York, opening up to a whole new world of wine, food, love and heartbreak.”
—Mackenzie Dawson, New York Post
"...a raw, shucked, pungent, wild love story."
"Danler... quickly draws you into the sparkling surfaces and the shadowy underbelly of the city... [Tess's] insatiable hunger for tactile, sensual satisfaction dares you to tag along. The journey is high-minded and dirty, beastly and bountiful."
“Danler’s ravishing debut is like inhabiting the heady after-midnight hours of a city drunk on its own charms… [her] descriptions of food and drink go beyond mouth-watering, verging on orgasmic… a first novel [that] tantalizes, seduces, satisfies.”
—Leigh Haber, O Magazine
About the Author
STEPHANIE DANLER is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the New School.
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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.
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.
Sweetbitter proves one of my mother's old adages: Never marry a cop or a bartender. Highly recommend.
"Sweet bitter" was totally "bitter" with very little "sweet" substance to redeem itself.