SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler
Kirkus Star

SWEETBITTER

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An ingénue from the Midwest learns the ways of the world, and the flesh, during her year as a back waiter at a top Manhattan restaurant.

A flurry of publicity surrounded the acquisition of this book, which was pitched by an MFA–grad waitress to an editor dining at one of her tables. Danler’s debut novel takes place behind the scenes of a restaurant in Union Square whose rigid hierarchy, arcane codes of behavior, and basis in servitude and manual labor makes it less like a modern workplace than the royal court of 18th-century France—but with tattoos and enough cocaine to rival Jay McInerney. There’s even a Dangerous Liaisons–type love triangle with the beautiful, naïve young narrator at its apex, batted between the mysterious, brilliant waitress who teaches her about wine and the dissolute, magnetic bartender who teaches her about oysters. The older woman says things like, “I know you. I remember you from my youth. You contain multitudes.” The older man “was bisexual, he slept with everyone, he slept with no one. He was an ex-heroin addict, he was sober, he was always a little drunk.” What 22-year-old could ever resist them? The writing is mostly incandescent, with visceral and gorgeous descriptions of flavors, pitch-perfect overheard dialogue, deep knowledge of food, wine, and the restaurant business, and only occasional lapses into unintentional pretentiousness. From her very first sentences—“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”—Danler aims to mesmerize, to seduce, to fill you with sensual cravings. She also offers the rare impassioned defense of Britney Spears.

As they say at the restaurant: pick up! 

Pub Date: May 24th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-101-87594-0
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2016




BEST BETS FOR MAY:

NonfictionTHE BITTER TASTE OF VICTORY by Lara Feigel
by Lara Feigel
FictionLAROSE by Louise Erdrich
by Louise Erdrich
NonfictionWHITE SANDS by Geoff Dyer
by Geoff Dyer

OUR CRITICS' TAKES ON MORE BESTSELLERS

See full list >
Cover art for OUR REVOLUTION
VERDICT:
SKIP IT
Cover art for ODESSA SEA
VERDICT:
BORROW IT
Cover art for THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE
VERDICT:
BUY IT
Cover art for SWING TIME
VERDICT:
BUY IT

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionRECKLESS APPETITES by Jacqueline Deval
by Jacqueline Deval
NonfictionGENERATION CHEF by Karen Stabiner
by Karen Stabiner
FictionTHE DEVIL WEARS PRADA by Lauren Weisberger
by Lauren Weisberger