Review: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

3:59 PM

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler | Rating: ★★★★★

“BITTER: always a bit unanticipated. Coffee, chocolate, rosemary, citrus rinds, wine. Once, when we were wild, it told us about poison. The mouth still hesitates at each new encounter. We urge it forward, say, Adapt. Now, enjoy it.” 

Let's get this out of the way before I even start: I adored Sweetbitter. Like, a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. So much so that I am pretty sure I highlighted about 75% of the book as I curled up to it. Sweetbitter is truly deserving of the hype and praise it has gotten since its original publication, due entirely to the fact that Stephanie Danler so eloquently portrays our early 20s. If you take Sweetbitter out of its setting, out of context, you have a very captivating spin on those years between still being a naive girl and adult-hood that could be transplanted nearly anywhere.

Which is what ultimately makes Sweetbitter work as this delectably complex coming of age story. There was this weird feeling that overcame me as I read the book: as I near my late 20s (let's not talk about it) I've never quite felt a nostalgia for my twenty-second year but there was this quality to Sweetbitter that resonated with me and made me nostalgic for that particular year. Sweetbitter is not an ode to being 22 ala Taylor Swift, but a frank story of how one woman stumbled into a new-world and is now ever-changing.




It's rough around the edges and so is its main-character, Tess. The side characters, too, have the edges of a broken wine glass--much like the cover art would lead you to believe. You aren't always going to love them. In fact, you'll find yourself scoffing from time to time and that's another quality to Sweetbitter that emphasizes the realness factor it has. Even if you can't see yourself in the same situations that they find themselves in, you can see something in them that resembles you or someone you know.

Every now and again you are hit with something in the narration that just clicks with you, even in the moments where the narrator in question is insufferable. Like this:

“I wanted to say, My life is full. I chose this life because it's a constant assault of color and taste and light and it's raw and ugly and fast and it's mine. And you'll never understand. Until you live it, you don't know.”

Danler is so crisp and brutally honest in her prose; it takes a novel that could have otherwise been a disaster for me (I'm not a foodie, I'm not big on novels that take place in the food industry) and it fashions it into something so real and compelling. I cannot offer enough praise to her when it comes to Sweetbitter beyond the fact that she is someone to look out for in the literature community.

The novel had a lot going for it that made it so believable--Tess moving away from home to have so-called adventures and to grow; her attachment to her new workplace and in particular, her mentor and of course a love interest. Despite being rough around the edges and, at times, difficult to like, Tess is sympathetic.

She is undeniably young and the manipulation she's subjected to during the course of one year that makes her obtainable to readers. It's one of those, "We have a lot of differences but, I relate to her." moments and it really warms the audiences to her. You see her grow throughout the course of the novel but you also see her make mistakes and shrink.

Overall, I thought Sweetbitter was a frank look into the life of a 20-something year old young woman moving through the motions of a new life and embracing it in all its fuck-ups.

And I enjoyed it immensely.

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