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These are the words that introduce us to Tess, the 22-year-old narrator of Sweetbitter - and you will never again listen to a debut coming-of-age novel as stunning as this one.
Shot from a mundane, provincial past, Tess comes to New York in the stifling summer of 2006. Alone, knowing no one, living in a rented room in Williamsburg, she manages to land a job as a backwaiter at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. This begins the year we spend with Tess as she starts to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing, and privileged life she has chosen as well as the remorseless and luminous city around her. What follows is her education: in oysters, champagne, the appellations of Burgundy, friendship, cocaine, lust, love, and dive bars.
As her appetites awaken - for food and wine but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging - we see her helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. With an orphan's ardor, she latches on to Simone, a senior server at the restaurant who has lived in ways Tess only dreams of, and against the warnings of coworkers she falls under the spell of Jake, the elusive, tatted up, achingly beautiful bartender. These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess' most exhilarating and painful lesson of all.
Stephanie Danler intimately defines the crucial transition from girl to woman, from living in a place that feels like nowhere to living in a place that feels like the center of the universe. She deftly conjures the nonstop and purely adrenalized world of the restaurant - conversations interrupted, phrases overheard, relationships only partially revealed. And she evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, the fragility and brutality of being young in New York with heart-stopping accuracy.
A lush novel of the senses - of taste and hunger, seeing and understanding, love and desire - Sweetbitter is ultimately about the power of what remains after disillusionment and the transformation and wisdom that come from our experiences, sweet and bitter.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By FanB14 on 06-24-16
Set Your Expectations Accordingly
This book is touted as one of the stellar releases of 2016, so myriad sources state. Several call it a "coming of age" story, conjuring up images of a sweet YA novel. This is not the case.
Tess, or Fluffer as she's called, is an English grad looking for a job in Manhattan because "it was the only option." She doesn't want to be an actress, Broadway star, writer, publisher, etc. A low level job at a top rated restaurant is her first experience. This is a story of a 23 year old navigating the world of excess drinking, drug use, backstabbing, and sexual awakening. Know that before you listen.
The number of negative reviews surprised me. Maybe they were disappointed the book wasn't what they were expecting? Perhaps I have bad taste? I'll tell you why I like it.
What seems like a silly surface story of a naive girl in NYC is just window dressing for the selective, succulent language. I'm a pushover for any writer who can throw in the 500 SAT/GRE word list and have it come out in a non-pretentious, effortless flow, enhancing the story. This is the sumptuous story of Tess coming alive through her sense of knowledge and taste. The condescending, arrogant, yet seductive Simone opens up a world of fine wine and introduces Tess to the subtle differences between figs, oysters, duck, etc. we never notice or take for granted. You're immersed in the life that is the restaurant world and if you've worked in this field, some of it will feel familiar. They sit down for family meal and learn about the specials for the day. The cook is an aloof dictator; the manager likes the girls; fingers are pointed when things go wrong; some will do anything to get promoted. Everyone stays up late after, go out for drinks, take drugs, and sleeps together. The customers can be arrogant, funny, or treat you like a commoner. This may not be the book for you. It wasn't what I was expecting, but the turn of phrase, analogies, and unbridled confidence with which Tess exits this story made it a great listen for me.
As for the narrator, I found her voice raspy, unsure, pouty, sensuous, and at times confident, just bringing Tess into perfect focus. Since there are several negative slams of her, listen to the entire sample before you decide. She also narrates the YA novel, "Every Day" and I enjoyed her voice there, too.
28 of 29 people found this review helpful
By Hannah on 04-21-17
I felt the narrator MADE the book!
What did you love best about Sweetbitter?
I didn't love the plot as much as I loved hearing about a different lifestyle and what goes on in top tier restaurants. I like food but certainly am not someone with a "palate" it was fun to learn about all of those things along with Tess. The central relationship wasn't super exciting for me but everything else was great. The characters were fun and
I LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED the narrator! Alex McKenna was perfect for Tess, the sultry and sweet and somewhat young/naive sounding voice was perfect. Not to mention she did perfect impressions for each of the other characters. I especially enjoyed Simone and Ariel's voices. They just really helped enliven the characters for me.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful