Stephanie Danler

2016 Reading List #80: Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler

After finishing the complete canon of Arthur Miller’s plays last week—which also happened to be the last goal I had to cross of my reading list for the year—I was excited to dive into something new and different, which happened to be Stephanie Danler’s debut novel, Sweetbitter.

I’d been attracted to the cover of Sweetbitter for some time now, but I’m a bit jaded about buying new contemporary novels that are apparently adored by all audiences but me (yeah, I’m still bitter about Where’d You Go Bernadette? and Life After Life). But when I had a coupon a few weeks ago and it was days before my birthday, I finally bought the book on a whim, hoping not to be disappointed.

And, in short, I wasn’t! Though I was a bit nervous early in the novel, I found myself hooked pretty quickly. Sweetbitter is a coming-of-age story for a twenty-two-year-old young woman, Tess (who isn’t actually named until about two-thirds of the way into the book), who moves to New York and lands a job at a swanky restaurant. Tess is taken in by the sophistication of the place and intrigued by her coworkers.

While the book is definitely heavy on food descriptions that generally meant very little to me, I was invested enough in the characters not to be deterred. I found Tess a compelling leading lady because we really know so little about her, and the same goes for her peers. We really feel like we’re glimpsing a temporary slice of the lives of these people, so what comes before or after is important, but nonessential.

I get the feeling that some of this book has to be semi-autobiographical for Danler because it all seems so specific, but, as it’s her debut novel, I’m interested to see where she goes from here. It’s not often that I feel this way after reading a contemporary best seller, so this is pretty high praise. Don’t be scared by the low(ish) Goodreads rating as I almost was—Sweetbitter is worth a taste.