Book Review: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Published May 2016
Tess is a pretty, naive, 22-year old who begins work as a waiter at a prestigious restaurant, expecting it to fill her many hungers.
Restaurant life is a special culture.
I loved my years as a server. I often rhapsodize on how everyone should have experience in foodservice. It’s fast-paced, humbling, and exhilarating when you’re in your groove.
Didn’t completely love this book, though.
The characters of Sweetbitter are too shallow with delusions of grandeur. The nights, too blow-filled.
To be fair, this may be the author’s intention. These people are naive, flawed, and self-important on purpose. Danler brilliantly showcases aggressively unlikeable people at an uncertain time of their lives.
Tess in particular is so…meh. There’s no growth in her character (that I can detect) or in those around her. She starts off entitled and delusional and ends that way, too.
Tess embodies why millennials get such a (mostly undeserved) bad rap, thinking the world should be handed to her. She deserves everything she wants just for existing.
And that job interview? Come on, now. Restaurant staff interviews aren’t conducted in the manner of “Who could be the next ingenue?!?!?!”
Plus, Tess only lasted a year. Pssssshhh, what a guppy.
Still, it’s fun to delve into the life. Makes me want to reread other similar books that have more food porn and less whiny, navel-gazing characters.
And while I’m complaining, where’s the food porn?? We get to see a little bit of the food, but I want it to jump off the pages and into my mouth, filling me with flavor the way food does in Emma Straub‘s The Vacationers or Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires.
For a good look at restaurant life, I’d skip this one and go instead for Restaurant Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Nonfiction, with lots of spark and sizzle.
I’m enthusiastic to consume what Danler serves up next.
Sweetbitter feels kind of like an appetizer that feels like it should have led to an entree and didn’t. Still delightfully eatable, but ultimately unsatisfying.
It’s too heavy on the bitter, with no detectable taste of sweet for this reader. And in the food industry, there are plenty of sweet experiences to devour.