A startling and stylish novel for anyone who has ever been in love and who loves food
A lush, thrilling debut about a year in the life of a uniquely beguiling young woman, set in the wild, alluring world of a famous downtown New York restaurant.
"Let's say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge..."
This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the 22-year-old at the heart of this stunning debut. Shot like a bullet from a mundane past, she's come to New York to escape the provincial, to take on her destiny. 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 and off duty.
Her appetites are awakened, for food, wine, knowledge and experience; and she's pulled into the thrall of two other servers a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman whose connection to both young lovers is murky, sensual, and overpowering. These two will prove to be Tess's hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story about discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.
Reviewed by Olivia at Angus & Robertson Bookworld
Readers of Sweetbitter, the first novel by veteran New York waitress Stephanie Danler, are in for a delicious treat. This is a book that dazzles and scandalises in equal turn, and it reminded me of everything I love about debut fiction. Danler takes the reader to New York to bus tables, pour wine, and slurp oysters along with the narrator - small town girl Tess - as she is hired as a back waiter in one of the hottest restaurants in the city. It isn’t all shiraz and caviar though; Sweetbitter reveals a dark yet wildly alluring side to life as a server, where hard drugs and wild parties are easier to come by than truffles. Caught up in this tumultuous world, Tess soon falls head over heels for bartender Jake, but the secretive world he shares with an older server Simone soon becomes both her paradise and her undoing.
This book is a must-read for the newest generation of twenty-something girls who cut their literary teeth on Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady and sharpened them on the works of Mary Gaitskill, Joyce Carol Oates and Emma Cline. It captures perfectly that feeling of loneliness that young women experience as they try to find their way in the world and make it beautiful. Tess is one such young woman - she is an endearingly self-absorbed narrator, but her longing for beauty, acceptance and validation is heart wrenching enough to make you truly feel for her. Sweetbitter is told entirely from Tess’ point of view, and the narration feels very present - every mouthful of food is accounted for in rich detail. One might say that Danler’s prose is indulgent, but it’s effective in that it makes for a truly immersive reading experience. In a novel so reliant on the allure of sensory experience that food creates, this is a huge plus.
Decadent, addictive, and brimming with youthful naivety, Sweetbitter is a novel not to be read but devoured, preferably with a glass of sauvignon blanc at hand.