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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sweetbitter: A Novel

The biggest novel to hit the shelves in July was Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter. I requested it immediately from the library and sped through it one afternoon before classes began for the fall. 

A young girl moved to New York City to find herself. She has no idea what she wants to do if she wants to be, so she sets out to find a job. Any job. She ends up being immediately hired at a café just off of Union Square, and she finds out it's because she has that extra 51%. What is that, you wonder? It's the untouchable, untrainable, mystical sense that we sometimes call charisma. Over the course of the year, Tess loves and loses, learns all about food and wine, and poems her skills as a back waiter and human being. This coming of age tale is not just about finding yourself, but finding yourself in the restaurant business.

The very first thing that I feel I need to say is that Danler is a superb writer. I found her prose to be incredibly on point and addicting in and of itself. The way that she crafts a story and strings her words together makes her a supremely compelling writer. That being said, I will be the first to tell you that I didn't particularly like this story. However, not liking the story doesn't take away from Danler's talent as a novelist. In fact, I found myself saying that I am very much looking forward to her second book. Just because I wasn't a fan of this story doesn't mean that I can't adore her ability.

My roommate wanted to know how I felt about this book after I finished it, and she was the first one that I texted. The way that I explained it to her was that it reminds me of the show Girls. I hated Girls, but I thought it was a wonderfully outstanding piece of work. It was well written, well directed, well produced, and well acted. It was, objectively speaking, an outstanding television show that deserves the critical accolades it received. It was incredible to watch something come together that was really that well done. I hated the show. I hated the whinyness, and I felt that it may have been a generational thing. Well I enjoy a good coming-of-age story, I felt that the television show was full of whiny women who needed to get their shit together and stop relying on mommy and daddy. My feelings towards this book or somewhat similar, just without the reliance on her parents. I wanted to reach into the book and smack her for her idiotic choices, and I felt no sympathy whatsoever for Tess when she ultimately got involved with a bad guy who would break her heart. (This isn't a spoiler because you see it coming a mile away. It's not even meant to be a surprise by the writer. She literally foreshadows it. I mean, literally. She tells you it's going to happen.)

I get the idea that we all have to make stupid mistakes in our early 20's and learn from them. God knows I made more than my fair share of mistakes. I just wanted to protagonist to be a little bit stronger. The relationship between her and her mean girl co-worker was interesting, and I felt myself waiting the entire novel for the other shoe to drop. This was by far the most interesting relationship in the book, because when it finally did drop, it was incredibly interesting and anti-climactic in one of the most interesting ways I found a novel recently. Usually "anti-climactic" is an insult, but in this case it really worked with the story and I mean it as a high compliment. The author is truly a talent that I feel will produce some additional amazing work, and even though I wasn't a fan of the story, I certainly feel like she deserves all the praise she received with this novel was released last month. I am anxiously awaiting her sophomore novel.

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