Stephanie Danler was working as a waitress in New York City when she encountered Penguin Random House senior vice president and editor-at-large Peter Gethers. While she was serving him, she told him she was writing a novel. After that conversation, Danler’s literary agent sent the manuscript to Gethers and he immediately offered his former waitress a pre-emptive, six-figure, two-book deal. It was every aspiring author's dream.
Sweetbitter is the result of that fairy tale success story. Propelled by ambition but still essentially naive, 22-year-old Tess has fled an empty life in the Midwest and landed a coveted job as a server in a restaurant that strongly resembles the famous Union Square Café in New York City. At first crushingly lonely and exhausted by the arduous routine, Tess is mentored by longtime senior server Simone. Despite warnings to avoid falling for bartender Jake, and willfully blind to the strange relationship between Jake and Simone, Tess begins a passionate affair with him. Meanwhile, she becomes an accepted member of a select society of overworked, terminally tense and bone-tired wait staff. Danler writes about food with sensory gusto as Tess learns how to distinguish the fine points of every wine, how to identify an heirloom tomato or oyster, and how to shave a truffle. Tess also learns how to get seriously drunk and high. Early on, she defines the foods and condiments that are sweet and those that are bitter—and her relationships with Simone and Jake are ultimately just that: a sweet time of consummate happiness followed by bitter betrayal.
Does Sweetbitter live up to the hype? What's the difference between wanting experiences and then having them? Why are coming-of-age novels so appealing and what makes this one special?
Island Book's open book club meets the last Wednesday of every month at 7:30pm. Our staff facilitator chooses both fiction and nonfiction titles. All are welcome to attend, and if you purchase your book here in the store you'll always get a 10% discount.