Synopses & Reviews
You will develop a palate. A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-obsessed. You will never simply eat food again.
These are the words that introduce us to Tess, the twenty-two-year-old narrator of Sweetbitter—and you will never again read 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 onto 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’s 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.
"...immaculately true to its time and place. [Danler’s] food writing is lush and precise… and her confiding narrator, Tess, a raw, knowing, and crisp companion." Vulture
"The prose in itself is a dopamine tease: when Danler describes the brininess of a Kumamoto oyster chased with chocolate stout or the lights over the bar in summer twilight, I wanted to get drunk and slurp seafood with my friends." The Paris Review online
"… Incandescent, with visceral and gorgeous descriptions of flavors, pitch-perfect overheard dialogue, deep knowledge of food, wine, and the restaurant business . . . Danler aims to mesmerize, to seduce, to fill you with sensual cravings. She also offers the rare impassioned defense of Britney Spears. As they say at the restaurant: pick up!" Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"A book that’ll stay glued to your hands as you race through the pages in one sitting." Elle
"Gorgeous, sensual prose and a page-turning plot line that casts a spell down to the very last sentence of the final page…tantalizing in all the right ways." Refinery29
"Stephanie Danler arrives on the literary scene with a fully-fledged, original voice that’s wry, watchful and wise beyond its years—acutely attuned to the pleasures of the senses and to the desperate stratagems of self-invention among young urban seekers. Sweetbitter is a stunning debut novel, one that seems destined to help define a generation." Jay McInerney
INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER * A thrilling novel of the senses and a coming-of-age tale, following a small-town girl into the electrifying world of New York City and the education of a lifetime at one of the most exclusive restaurants in Manhattan. Perfect for readers of Kitchen Confidential and Blood, Bones and Butter.
Twenty-two, and knowing no one, Tess leaves home to begin her adult life in New York City. Thus begins a year that is both enchanting and punishing, in a low-level job at "the best restaurant in New York City." Grueling hours and a steep culinary learning curve awaken her to the beauty of oysters, the finest Champagnes, the appellations of Burgundy. At the same time, she opens herself to friendships--and love--set against the backdrop of dive bars and late nights. As her appetites sharpen--for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging--Tess is drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle that will prove to be her most exhilarating and painful lesson of all.
Stephanie Danler deftly conjures the nonstop and purely adrenalized world of the restaurant--conversations interrupted, phrases overheard, and suggestions below the surface. Evoking the infinite possibility of being young in New York with heart-stopping accuracy, Sweetbitter is ultimately about the power of what remains after disillusionment, and the wisdom that comes from experience, sweet and bitter.
About the Author
Stephanie Danler is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the New School.
Stephanie Danler on PowellsBooks.Blog
I read a lot that year because I was on the J train for the first time in my New York existence and it felt rough. Not just rougher than the L train, rough for any train. It was blessed with an exceedingly high percentage of junkies, meth heads, women that slapped their kids in front of me, men who sprayed saliva when they screamed at me...