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.
These are the words that introduce us to Tess, the 22-year-old narrator of Sweetbitter - and you will never again listen to a debut coming-of-age novel as stunning as this one.
Shot from a mundane, provincial past, Tess comes to New York in the stifling summer of 2006. Alone, knowing no one, living in a rented room in Williamsburg, she manages to land a job as a backwaiter at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. This begins the year we spend with Tess as she starts to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing, and privileged life she has chosen as well as the remorseless and luminous city around her. What follows is her education: in oysters, champagne, the appellations of Burgundy, friendship, cocaine, lust, love, and dive bars.
As her appetites awaken - for food and wine but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging - we see her helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. With an orphan's ardor, she latches on to Simone, a senior server at the restaurant who has lived in ways Tess only dreams of, and against the warnings of coworkers she falls under the spell of Jake, the elusive, tatted up, achingly beautiful bartender. These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess' most exhilarating and painful lesson of all.
Stephanie Danler intimately defines the crucial transition from girl to woman, from living in a place that feels like nowhere to living in a place that feels like the center of the universe. She deftly conjures the nonstop and purely adrenalized world of the restaurant - conversations interrupted, phrases overheard, relationships only partially revealed. And she evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, the fragility and brutality of being young in New York with heart-stopping accuracy.
A lush novel of the senses - of taste and hunger, seeing and understanding, love and desire - Sweetbitter is ultimately about the power of what remains after disillusionment and the transformation and wisdom that come from our experiences, sweet and bitter.
"Stephanie Danler arrives on the literary scene with a fully-fledged, original voice that's wry, watchful and wise beyond its years - acutely attuned to the pleasures of the senses and to the desperate stratagems of self-invention among young urban seekers. Sweetbitter is a stunning debut novel, one that seems destined to help define a generation." (Jay McInerney)
"I loved this novel so, so much. It's rare that a book conveys with such unerring precision what it's like to be newly arrived in New York - the story itself, but also tiny throwaway details like the sudden authority of the blue sky at dawn after staying up all night, or your bones bracing themselves for what comes next, or the exact mood of a Manhattan bar at three in the morning. I've never seen these things described so brilliantly before. Tess is a remarkable narrator: vulnerable and tough and smart, but more than that, she's inspiring and riveting. This book belongs with all the great essential young-female-in-New York classics." (Kate Christensen, author of In the Drink and The Great Man)
"Gorgeous, sensual prose and a page-turning plot line that casts a spell down to the very last sentence of the final page...tantalizing in all the right ways." (Refinery29)
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