Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter.. The adjectives used to warm up your palate for this new bestseller. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is a story everyone in their twenty-somethings can find alluring as well as shameful.
Tess, a 22-year-old leaves the dirt roads of Ohio to move to "the one place large enough to hold so much unbridled, unfocused desire.” Can you guess where? New York City, of course. The concept of Tess reinventing herself in NYC and the adventure ahead is what kept me reading. Finding herself living in a rundown apartment with $126 to her name, Tess quickly explores the restaurant scene to find her place in the big city. I respected the change of pace of her having no aspirations and not being the hackneyed aspiring actress or model. She interviews at a reputable restaurant in Manhattan with Howard, who hires her as a backwaiter. Tess is quickly immersed in the culture and lifestyle of her newfound profession. You are introduced to restaurant staff but notably, Simone, the restaurant know it all and wine connoisseur who takes Tess under her wing, essentially. Teaching her about using all of your senses, food and a little bit about life. Then there is Jake the mysterious and sexy Bartender that catches Tess’s eye immediately (every novel has one of those guys). Unfortunately, Jake isn't too appealing from a reader's perspective. The storyline is predisposed due to Tess being the age she is desperately finding herself. Of course, a lot of us can look back on terrible youth crushes like Jake. Jake is a man who does not know how to be loved and keeping Tess at an arm’s reach is all she needs to be interested. There is an unspoken bond between Simone and Jake that you can't quite put your finger on but it is very clear they come as a package deal. Late nights of drinking and cocaine rapidly take over Tess’s social life creating a lot of vulnerability for the character. At this point in the story, you decide whether or not you are on Tess’s side through her unraveling. Her actions and thoughts come off pretentious as well as emotional, all while being annoyed with the character at times you find yourself imagining being at such a young age experiencing the fast-paced restaurant scene of New York with no compass.
This book is a full sensory overload when it comes to taste, sex, love, and life. Danler writes like a poet making you feel and taste each word. I can't say I couldn’t put it down, because I could, I really didn’t want to spend any more time with these characters. I recommend this book to someone who has worked in a restaurant and knows the rhythm of the industry as well as someone who loves a good book about finding yourself without absolutely any direction on the way. The wine and food descriptions were delicious and gave great visuals for any foodie. It's a toss up if this book left a sweet or bitter taste in my mouth, let's go with sour.
Read Sweetbitter? How do you think Tess handled taking on New York City, her new career, and the social scene all on her own? If you worked in the service industry did you find the lingo and characters to be similar to situations you have experienced? Join the discussion with Cassandra on our Instagram, @lexandlynne!