Every once in a while I begin a novel that is absolutely unputdownable. The novel consumes me, taking up every ounce of my free time. I drift in my everyday relationships, nose constantly buried, constantly hungry for the next bit of prose. My eyes threaten to tear from the road while I'm driving, the temptation riding shotgun and teasing me to tear it open. I become unaware of my surroundings, my neighbors, when the last time I brushed my hair occurred--basically, I become a walking danger zone for about 2-3 entire days. Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter was no exception.
A coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old woman who moved to New York City from Ohio to become a waitress, it's one of those novels that gets you from the very beginning. It's written half in poetry and half in prose, making the reader feel as though they are drifting back and forth within a beautiful dream.
While never outright stated in the text, the story takes place mainly at Union Square Cafe, where main character Tess is working as a back-waiter with some of the most arrogant, pretentious, obnoxious, hilarious, eccentric, lovable characters I have ever been introduced to. The book is littered with looking glasses into the glaringly differing lives of these characters, and nothing is more New York than that.
Interspersed throughout the novel is a love story--yes, the main character falls for the sexy, dangerous, older, completely unavailable bartender Jake. But don't let this turn you off from picking it up; it's not your stereotypical young adult romance novel. While we learn a little of Jake's character through their scenes, we learn more about Tess growing as a young woman. Although this book only took me two days to tear through, I feel as though I was reading it for years. I feel like I myself went through an entire lifetime reading this book, watching this character make hilarious, cringeworthy, horrifying mistakes and learning (from some of them, at least).
This story is a love letter to New York, to the food industry, and to starting out at a menial job and making the best from it, which is what we all have to do at some point. While it is Danler's first novel, it seems as though she has been writing for decades. Her prose is seamless and sophisticated and I can't wait to read more from her in the future.
Have you read this novel? If not, what is happening with you? You need to go pick it up, yesterday.