Sweetbitter by by Stephanie Danler
Adult – Contemporary
Published May 24th 2016 by Knopf
At 22, Tess moves from her conventional life in the Midwest to New York in search of something more for her life. Except she’s not entirely sure what that that more is, other than she knows she wants to have the sense that she belongs somewhere. When she’s hired on as a backwaiter at a renowned restaurant, we spend the year watching her as she learns about what her life could be and how to reach for more. As she learns all about how to appreciate food and life she is pulled into the lives of two other servers at the restaurant – Jake, the handsome bartender who has the possibility to be her first love and Simone, a woman who Tess makes her surrogate mother.
This was my “I really want to like it” book. The writing is absolutely beautiful and is made even better by the subject matter. It’s everything I love in books and yet something never really clicked for me to turn it from a like into a love. This book is descriptive but very rarely overly descriptive. I especially loved the format of the book breaking it out into 4 designated parts to get a clearer sense of Tess and how she was growing over the year. I was rooting for Tess because I can pick out moments where I was a Tess. I see myself in her inability to function as an “adult” because she’s really still a kid but also not.
While I was rooting for her the whole time and understood her motivations things just always felt slightly off for me. I understood her attachment to Simone but also didn’t at the same time which was at least interesting to me. Tess wanted a family and what Simone wanted wasn’t as clear at the beginning but nonetheless she took Tess on as her protege. Simone tried to teach Tess how to understand wine and ask questions, just all around how to be super pretentious.
Really, I think what stopped me from connecting to the story was Jake. It felt like someone read the story and said you know a girl losing and becoming herself isn’t a story, let’s add a hot bartender because her relationship with this other old woman isn’t enough. People sleep with co-workers all the time which I get in the story but I hated how predominate he was in relation with how useless he also was. This is really just personal preference but I would have loved more of the Simone and Tess dynamic and have Jake be more of a secondary character like Tess’ drinking buddies.
“There are so many things to be blasé about: your youth, your health, your employment. But real food—gifts from the ocean, no less—is not one of them. It’s one of the only things that can immerse you safely in pleasure in this degraded, miserable place.”
“There are many romantic reasons to watch the sunrise. Once it started, it was hard to leave. I wanted to own it. I wanted it to be a confirmation that I was alive. Most of the time, however, it felt condemning.”
“BITTER: always a bit unanticipated. Coffee, chocolate, rosemary, citrus rinds, wine. Once, when we were wild, it told us about poison. The mouth still hesitates at each new encounter. We urge it forward, say, Adapt. Now, enjoy it.”
Probably not but it was a good summer book and I may buy it for someday again just because the cover is so pretty and I want it on my shelf.