Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler


I bought an apple and ate it.

Did I understand the fragrance and heft? The too-sweetness of the pulpy flesh? Had I ever felt the fatality of autumn like my bones did now, while I watched the pensive currents of foot traffic? A muted hopelessness pressed on me. I lay under it. At that point I couldn’t remember the orchards, the blossoms, the life of the apple. I only knew it was a humble fruit, made for unremarkable moments. It’s just food, I thought as I finished it core and all. And yet it carries us into winter. It holds us steady.

Where to buy it: QBD the Bookshop, paperback $27.99

When can I get my hands on it: Now!

What can I expect: Coming of age, New York, Food, Relationships,Comradeship, Gritty, Whimiscal

I understand why Sweetbitter is a bestseller. After completing the novel, I was perplexed to why I enjoyed it so much. Despite the book strangely captivating me, enough that I finished it right to the end, I did find that it lagged in the middle. For a large part of the book I wasn’t sure where it was going as nothing was actually happening to the main protagonist. But after finishing the book and pondering over it, I realized that I liked it so much because Danler shows the complexities of human nature, the complexities of a single individual.

Sweetbitter is about Tess who moves to New York from a small insignificant town, to pursue a more exciting life, to develop an expansion of taste. In fact, it is promised to the reader at the very beginning, that we too, will come away with a taste for richer experiences as Danler combines this girl’s story with poetic description of the sensation of taste:

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.

Tess has high hopes for living in this famous city but as she is in desperate need of money she finds work at a high-class restaurant as a back-waiter.

Sweetbitter has similar tones to the classic text The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. Tess, like Nick in The Great Gatsby gets caught up a world that is a little whimsical, full of parties and irresponsibility. Like Nick, Tess, in the end, realises that she has to move on from the restaurant and lead a more sensible life. There is also an older woman; Simone, who mentors Tess with her ‘palate’ for wine and food. Tess soon becomes awestruck by this seemingly powerful confident woman. Simone is a mysterious figure, as she is highly sophisticated and educated, yet has spent her adult life working as a waitress at the restaurant. Another character, Jake, becomes a love interest for Tess, but has this strange friendship with Simone. Tess spends a lot of time contemplating over what the relationship is between Simone and Jake and what has brought them to the restaurant, when they seem so different from the dynamic of the other staff.

In fact, Danler doesn’t allude to any of the characters histories, including that of even Tess. But I believe that this is Danler’s aim all along. As Tess gets whisked away with the daily ebbs and flows of the restaurant, so does the reader, you yourself, forget that there is any world outside of the restaurant and the strange dynamic of the people that work there.


Amy xx




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