Sweetbitter: A Novel

image via Dream by Day

Author: Stephanie Danler
Publisher: Knopf

Summary: Without any particular ambition Tess packs up her belongings & moves to New York City. On a whim she gets a job as a low level server in one of Manhattan's best restaurants, learning the service industry & about the joys of wine & good along the way. However she is also drawn into the darker side of the business, from after-hours drinking & drugs to her relationships with another server & bartender.

Review:  If you're expecting a behind-the-scenes of a restaurant story or a young girl makes it in the big city, move along. This novel turned out to be fairly dark with Tess making some rather poor decisions & getting wrapped into what has been described as a "love triangle" (more on that below). There's a lot of coke in the bathroom & her relationship with the bartender can best be described as confounding.

On the otherhand, I didn't hate the book. It intrigued me enough to keep reading & I think it would make for a good book club selection as everyone would have strong opinions!

The central plot is this so-called love triangle between Tess, Jake the handsome but aloof bartender, & Simone the older mysterious but seemingly glamorous server.  I won't give away what Jake & Simone's relationship actually is, as that is something Tess spends the novel trying to pinpoint. However it's so painfully clear that Tess should stay away & so painfully unclear what she sees in either one of them.

Which brings me to my main issue of this book: what motivates Tess in any of her decisions? She stays up to the early hours of the morning drinking & doing coke, she is obsessed with Jake, she doesn't have any clear career goals. Beyond that there isn't much to her. It's hard to get invested in her.

This book got amazing reviews but so far people in real life that I have talked to seem more mystified than anything by it. My rating below was a difficult one but I bumped it up to 3 as it is well written, regardless of how I felt about the plot or characters.




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