Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter

A Novel

Book - 2016
Average Rating:
Rate this:

Comments (36)

Add a Comment
AndreaG_KCMO Dec 09, 2019

I picked up this book after searching for a City of Girls read-alike; halfway through, I still couldn't commit and moved on to another book before returning to this one.

Simone and Jake's characterization bothered me most; they struck me as neither realistic nor empathetic, and the spotty insights into their backstory contributed little to my understanding of their relationship or their hold on Tess, whose actions and motivations I found mildly more comprehensible. All the secondary characters were trying too hard to be gritty and quirky.

In fact, "trying too hard" may be my final word on this one.

e
EljayJohnson
Jul 14, 2019

Oh, where to begin? First, an admission: for about the 1st third of the book, I was suckered in. Danler has some gifts with language and I liked the breaks from the narrative for the 2nd person passages and the stream of consciousness-type unidentified dialogue pieces. I was certainly interested in the premise too: a very young (22) midwest girl moves to New York and begins work in the (as the novel avers) best fine-dining restaurant in the city. Here was my first disappointment - when I'd heard about the book originally, I thought she was breaking into the food business, but she busses tables instead. What began as a mildly interesting awakening to adulthood novel, becomes so pretentious and overblown it was truly laughable. Tess is a terrible bus girl; she becomes obsessesed with the sexy mysterious bartender; she worships at the shrine of the older, intellectual waittress; she drinks excessively and does lots of drugs. And it's written like this is the stuff of the rarest of life experiences and an agonizing and artful existence, instead of a bunch of trite tropes. This has been compared to the wonderful Kitchen Confidential, but it has virtually no food descriptions and those that it has are just more blather. It's been compared to Bright Lights Big City, but it doesn't have that far superior novel's depth and self-criticism.

For reasons beyond me, this book had a ton of buzz even before it was published and has received almost unanimously great reviews by professional. I'm encouraged that there are many negative reviews from actual readers; it seems like a great number of readers are seeing through the ridiculous self-congratulatory pretension.

The final insult was the ending. The inexplicable episode with Howard. The reveal of the revolting connection between bartender Jake and sublime waittress Simone. Danler threw a bunch of crap at the wall to see what would stick.

k
kmobuckeye
Feb 11, 2019

A good story. I love that no one in here is perfect and it shows the true dirty new york underbelly.

d
daysleeper236
Jan 04, 2019

This novel is easy to hate, with its pretentious, poetic writing style and unlikable characters. That said, the second half is better than the first and by the end I couldn't put it down.

s
singasong70
Nov 28, 2018

Agree with previous reviewer r/t who gets published, praised.
Decided not to bother r/t reviews here - time is more valuable than that.
Thanks for letting me know!

a
agoldsby
Oct 07, 2018

The best way to sum up this book is mediocrity at its best. I'm convinced in America certain people are praised and deemed successful even when their work is boring and predictable. In this case, you'll even get a tv show out of it! Do not waste your time, this is not a new story. This isn't even a fully developed story. The author doesn't give us the benefit of a backstory for our main character. As far as we know she began her existence when she got to NYC and unfortunately the author goes out of her way to make the reader dislike Tess as the story goes on. Tess is a shrill and eternal victim who demonstrates all of the ugly qualities women dislike about other women -especially when a guy is at the root. My favorite characters were the wine, Simone and Sasha. I appreciate undiluted characters who present a strong voice. In short, this story was dry as toast. The ending made me even further disappointed in the main character. This could have been a really good story if we focused on all the characters and the behind the scenes of the restaurant. But alas we are stuck with this spiteful, drug addicted broke down waitress version of Carrie Bradshaw. But hey, it's America and here, mediocrity gets published, made into a tv show and eventually nominated for all the awards. I'm even bored writing these comments, for which I also blame the author.

ArapahoeTiegan Jul 12, 2018

I started out really liking this book. The premise of a 22-year-old moving to New York and getting a job in a high-end restaurant was pretty intriguing. It started out pretty good, but just went downhill from there. Overall, I found myself disappointed. The writing was nice, but the characters had no dimensions, and the story was not what I had hoped it to be.

b
bktm2586
Jun 28, 2018

I'm surprised so many other readers were disappointed. It is important, however, to know what you're getting into. This is basically a coming-of-age memoir. Yes, it's officially fiction, but if you Google this book or the author at all, you'll see that it's virtually her life, with some characters and names changed, just slightly. Also, it's just one year-in-the-life.

That said, it's beautifully written. If you love food, you'll love the detailed descriptions of all parts of fine dining, in one of New York's best restaurant. And, since NYC has about 7,000 good places to eat, that's saying something. And if you're interested in relationships, power struggles, love and disappointment, the author has a lot to say. And all this by a young, first-time author. An amazing accomplishment.

s
sooperhockeygirl88
Jun 13, 2018

How this got made into a TV series is beyond me. The "story" got no where. The main character Tess is simply a waitress who just moved to New York looking to start a new life. We don't know her past and we never will in the book. We just learn that she's envious of another co-worker's life, including her boyfriend. Tess is a drunk. A druggie. Still trying to find life. Never finds it. Even when the book is over.

On the plus side, there is some eloquent writing as the author describes food and the senses. There is also a nice poem tribute to 9/11 weaved in out of the blue.

Read it only if you have a lot of boredom to kill. Then you realize it's time you'll never get back. Just like Tess' life in New York City.

w
WinstonO
May 08, 2018

One of the worst books I've ever read! I graduated from cooking school & worked in restaurants so to me the plot is totally unreasonable. No one with no experience is going to get a FOH or BOH job without experience, especially in a 3 - 5 star restaurant. It didn't have much description of people, places, things, impressions. The dialogue was flat. There was nothing to hold my attention.

This was a librarian recommendation but it makes me wonder if any librarian read it. I only read it as part of the Pick 10 program.

s
smpowe5
Mar 20, 2018

One of the first books I have checked out that I didn't feel the need to finish. I read about half of it and it seemed to be going nowhere with no real storyline. Characters didn't catch my interest and just reminded me why I didn't enjoy working in a restaurant.

k
Kcota22
Oct 11, 2017

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was wary at first, considering I am not one particularly interested in food literature or New York living; however, after reading a few chapters and getting into the style of writing, I was pleasantly surprised. The author has a beautiful way of prose writing and I felt like I could really relate to the main character solely through her descriptions of other characters in the novel and her mentality in general. I thought that the "lack of a plot" was intentional and was entirely part of the novel's glory. Not every character has to change or evolve in some way through the process of the book. I do believe that Tess learned a lot about the New York style of living and about the people and food, but she, as a character, didn't really change, and I think that was the point. Overall, I thought it was very enjoyable to read.

k
KatG1983
Oct 02, 2017

I never made it passed page 130. It's not that this a badly written book - the author is competent and somewhat talented ... but there was no plot, just vague storyline. The book would be better sold as 'scenes from a restaurant', rather than a story with any sort of plot to follow. Perhaps a more coherent story takes shape after page 130, but I just didn't care enough about the characters to get there.

jen480480 Jul 19, 2017

I had high hopes for this book, especially considering all of the hype, but I couldn't get past the first few chapters. The writing was spastic at best, the author did a poor job of introducing the characters and giving me a reason to feel emotionally invested in them (this is particularly true of the protagonist), and every chapter followed the same plot line. Yawn.

MichelleM_3 May 10, 2017

I really like the book. I like the author's writing. What I enjoyed the most about the book was the author's ability to transport the reader into Tess's world which is the restaurant. You kind of get sucked in the way she does. It all seems intoxicating. What I disliked about the book was that our main character, Tess, remains stagnant but I believe the author wasn't really interested in changing her too much. The book felt more focused on the restaurant's environment and how it can affect people; the customers and employees alike.

p
PinesandPrejudice
Mar 20, 2017

This was one the worst books I have ever read. I finished hoping the main character would change, learn something, redeem herself -- but alas, she remained stupid, ignorant and annoying the entire time. The characters were pretentious, flat, dull, and unnecessarily "messed up".

The format was confusing -- especially if you try to listen to it on audiobook. There was nothing exciting. It was full of stupid, self-harming choices that I felt no sympathy toward.

Also, I had NO IDEA what time period this took place in which was ridiculously annoying.

In short, reading this book was a waste of my life.

athompson10 Mar 02, 2017

Every time I eat at Union Square Cafe, I'll remember this book.

m
michelleritchie
Feb 22, 2017

I really enjoyed this book. I read it on vacation and had it done in 3 days. Some people describe her writing as lacking character development but I thought it was more about leaving details unsaid. You don't even learn her name for a few hundred pages, and that is intentional. It leaves it quite esoteric and to your own assumptions (and imagination) and I really enjoyed that. I love a mix of food-literature and a love story so this was a great mix of the two.

c
ctkvlk
Feb 07, 2017

Not a bad book, but I went into it hoping for more food and less about the drunken revels of the main character. Not bad but not great, imho.

wendybird Dec 19, 2016

Like legions before her, 22 year old Tess decides to leave her small town life and try and find her own version of the "go to New York City and live the dream" story. Her first steps are lucky and true - she lands a decent first job as a "backwaiter" at a famous Manhattan restaurant, circa 2006. Told in the first person, we learn along with her about the wines of the world, oysters, artisan coffee, and other fine cuisine luxuries. On the other side of the ledger, Tess and readers see the grimy NYC stuff, too : cocaine, alcohol mainlining, cruel coworkers. There is nothing extraordinary, in a sense, in this coming of age American story or in its language - but what is worth notice is how true it all rings. The author has taken all this and made a compelling, adventurous read. There are glimpses of hope among the rubble, and love among the dirty bar towels. I'll be reading more Stephanie Danler, along with all the starry eyed reviewers for Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Elle.

j
Jdawning2
Dec 01, 2016

This HAS to be the authors first book & perhaps she'll improve. As it stands, very annoying writing & character development. It felt like she was trying. Trying to be a writer. The food/wine/industry bits are intriguing, but the storyline is blasé. Actually its inspired me to write a better version, so, not a total waste of my time.

l
linnco
Nov 25, 2016

The author is trying so hard to be "literary" in her descriptions that she forgets that she needs an engaging story as well. Her individual paragraphs are beautiful but the story is so slow and boring that I gave up after about 30 pages.

a
Amyode2
Nov 08, 2016

The premise for this book was intriguing to me but failed to hold my interest. I kept waiting for the character to develop but she remained very shallow and I was uninterested in what happened next.

c
cheriemoses
Oct 27, 2016

This story lags and I found it hard to maintain my interest. There was little way to find empathy for the main character or for that matter, any character. The confines of the restaurant became too limited for this novel, too claustrophobic for the reader. The pace was very slow and the writing needed something more than the repetitiveness and descriptions of situations and characters. Not a good read.

SPL_Stephanie Oct 20, 2016

Tess, a confused 22 year old moves to the busy streets of Williamsburg in an attempt to rediscover and to redefine herself. After finding a job with the hottest restaurant in NYC, she struggles with the restaurant culture and quickly becomes immersed in the sex, drugs and drama that begins each evening as the closed sign is posted. As Tess trains herself to identify wines, her coworkers teach her difficult lessons of love and friendship.

Stephanie Danler flawlessly transports readers through four seasons of the main character's fast-paced and reckless lifestyle. Although a slow read, the pace of each sentence alters as Tess indulges in both uppers and downers.

For those that are all too aware of the lifestyle of working in high-end restaurants, this will be a source of nostalgia. If you liked the New York adventures found in Donna Tartt's 'The Goldfinch,' you certainly will enjoy this read.


1-25 of 36 items

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings

  Loading...
[]
[]
To Top