Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter

by Stephanie Danler

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Overview

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

A lush, raw, thrilling novel of the senses about a year in the life of a uniquely beguiling young woman, set in the wild, alluring world of a famous downtown New York restaurant.

"Let's say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge..." This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she's come to New York to look for a life she can't define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a "backwaiter," on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she's pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan's ardor. These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess's hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101875940
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/24/2016
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 218,644
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

STEPHANIE DANLER is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the New School.

Read an Excerpt

I
(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Sweetbitter"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Stephanie Danler.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Sweetbitter, the dazzling, eagerly awaited debut novel by Stephanie Danler.

1. The title appears within one of the novel’s epigraphs, a quote from a poem by Sappho: “Eros once again limb-­loosener whirls me / Sweetbitter, impossible to fight off, creature stealing up.” How does this fit into Tess’s story?

2. On page 4, Tess likens the Hudson River to Lethe. According to Greek mythology, the dead drink from Lethe to forget their previous lives. On page 13, in her interview with Howard, Tess says, “Or maybe it means we’ve forgotten ourselves. And we keep forgetting ourselves. And that’s the big grown-­up secret to survival.” What is Tess trying to forget?

3. Throughout the novel, Tess considers the idea that she is a “fifty-­one percenter,” whose optimistic warmth, intelligence, work ethic, empathy, and self-­awareness and integrity made her uniquely qualified to work at the restaurant. How does this concept figure into her developing sense of herself, and her coworkers? Does it prove to be a good thing?

4. Simone is prone to lecturing Tess philosophically. (Appetite “cannot be cured. It’s a state of being, and like most, has its attendant moral consequences.” [page 62] “Your senses are never inaccurate—­it’s your ideas that can be false.” [page 78]) What do these proclamations tell us about Simone’s character? And what do we learn about Tess?

5. “The sharing of secrets is a ceremony, marking kinship. You have no secrets yet, so you don’t know what you don’t know” (page 89). What secrets does Tess develop? Do they help her, or hurt her?

6. What does Simone mean when she tells Tess, “And you want to take every experience on the pulse” (page 95)? And when Tess repeats that phrase to Jake on page 145, why does he say, “You’re too malleable to be around [Simone]”?

7. The concept of “terroir” appears several times in the novel. On page 133, Tess wonders if people can have it. Which characters do you think have terroir? Can a book have it?

8. At what point does it become clear to the reader that Tess has developed a problem with drugs and alcohol? When does she realize it?

9. Simone and Jake each influence Tess greatly. Whose influence proves more beneficial, and whose is more damaging? What does she want from each of them? What does she get?

10. On page 196, Tess tells Jake, “You’re all terrified of young people. We remind you of what it was like to have ideals, faith, freedom. We remind you of the losses you’ve taken as you’ve grown cynical, numb, disenchanted, compromising the life you imagined. I don’t have to compromise yet. I don’t have to do a single thing I don’t want to do. That’s why you hate me.” What do you think of her assessment?

11. Several of Tess’s coworkers assign to her nicknames of their own devising—­“new girl,” “Skipper,” “Fluffer,” “little one.” The reader doesn’t even learn her real name until page 216. What do these names have in common? Are they terms of endearment, or belittling?

12. What role does Howard play in Tess’s coming of age? What does he see in her that she hasn’t yet seen in herself?

13. Tess and Simone each came to New York at twenty-­two. How were their paths similar, and how were they different?

14. Tess and Jake both grew up motherless. Simone becomes a mother figure for each. Which of them gets the most out of the relationship: Tess, Jake, or Simone?

15. Why does Samantha’s appearance at the restaurant affect Simone so deeply?

16. Why does discovering Simone’s key tattoo affect Tess so deeply?

17. When examining the photographs pinned to Jake’s wall, Tess thinks, “It reminded me, the way he skirted around those photos, of something Simone had told me during one of our lessons: try not to have ideas about things, always aim for the thing itself. I still did not understand these four photographs, the why of them” (page 291). What does this passage mean? What does she want to know?

18. Why does Tess feel so betrayed when she learns about Jake and Simone’s planned sabbatical? How does the timing, coinciding with the restaurant’s closing, affect her response?

19. Over the course of the novel, Tess devotes herself to studying wine—­but after she shares her thoughts on Beaujolais, Mrs. Neely says, “Child, what is wrong with you? There’s no roses in the damn wine. Wine is wine and it makes you loose and helps you dance. That’s it. The way you kids talk, like everything is life or death” (page 335). What does this exchange do for Tess? What does Mrs. Neely represent?

20. When Sasha tells Tess about the reality of Jake and Simone’s relationship, why is she surprised?

21. Why does Tess have sex with Howard?

22. Regularly throughout the novel, the author interrupts Tess’s storytelling with collections of overheard fragments of conversation. What purpose do these poetic interludes serve? What does the final one represent?

Customer Reviews

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Sweetbitter 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the NYC setting and the main character's struggle with learning the city and her high pressure job. And, the dynamics of assimilating into the restaurant culture. I liked her growth and ability to recognize and articulate changes that needed to be made in the restaurant. Not a 5 story but certainly absorbing and interesting. I ever thought not to finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a bunch of nothing....could not force myself to finish. All it was was blah, blah, blah.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Boring. Jumps around. No idea if there is a story. Not sure I cam force myself to finish the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't wait to read ad the storyline sounded amazing but what a disappointment . Overwritten . Laborious to read... couldn't wait for it to be over (I will always read to the end).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought I was going to read a fun inside look at being in the restaurant business, sorry, this is a snore. Could not get past 2 chapters, writer loves words but isn't a storyteller.
michelle524 More than 1 year ago
this book started out great, tess was easy to like and root for, however the last part (spring) was like a completely different book, turned into a badly written soap opera. baffling
Anonymous 6 months ago
Boring and depressing. Don't waste your time. Hated the ending.
Anonymous 9 months ago
If you want to read about drugs,alcohol, and sex with anyone who asks, read this ridiculous story about a young woman who works in a restaurant. I am an avid reader who enjoys varied types of stories, this however pushed me over the edge. This account of the restaurant industry is sad, worrisome, and questioning. After reading this boring account of life after and during service, maybe I'll eat home. Good thing I did not pay for this trash. Thanks to the NYC library overdrive app.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had high expectations for this book after seeing rave reviews online but I was left disappointed. The entire story seemed disjointed and unorganized. There isn't anything drawing you in to the characters; nothing to like about or sympathize with them. At first I thought it was going to start out as a slow read, picking up after the first couple of chapters...yeah, not the case. I ultimately had to force myself to finish the book.
juicedbooks More than 1 year ago
I'm going to come right out and say it...I think this book was a little overrated. It's based loosely on Danler's life as a waitress, but is a mostly fictional account of Tess, a lost young woman who moves to New York City. She quickly becomes trapped in a love triangle with the bartender of the restaurant she works at, Jake, and an experienced waitress, Simone. That's the gist of it, and although Danler tries to complicate matters with flowery prose and emotionally wrought descriptions, I couldn't find much more within these pages. Tess grows as a person and she feels deeply, which is touching to read. She frequently gives endless descriptions of the food and wine that are tiring and yet delightful in their rhythm. Danler writes in a style that is unique, fresh, and full of satisfaction. The one thing the beautiful writing can't cover up is the lack of depth from the story. It's unclear what Tess takes away from her experiences, if anything, and she is somewhat childish. By the end of the story, her lack of ambition is annoying and somewhat pathetic. Simone and Jake meet equally ambiguous ends. While I loved the experience of reading this book, I was left wondering why I bothered to care about the characters at all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was absolutely drawn in throughout my entire reading of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt my senses awaken with her thoughtful descriptions and emotionally through out. This is an interesting read about a women in the self actualizing period of her twenties. It took me back to when I was a single waitress trying to figure it all out. I read most of it in the bath tub!
Piney10 More than 1 year ago
This book was touted to be one of the best summer reads of 2016. I also had really liked Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain on the insides of the restaurant business so I actually was looking forward to this. Perhaps Anthony Bourdain set too high of a standard but I found this book lacking in anything, boring, and disappointing. Generally this is a story of a Midwestern college educated young woman who comes to NYC to perhaps find herself and lands a job at what apparently is a top end restaurant. I understand there is a lot that goes on inside restaurants from drugs, sex, harassment, etc. However what the author hoped to achieve in this novel I found was totally lacking and disappointing. All characters were unlikeable, the protagonist in my view the most, with really no attempt to make things better. I guess I am more of an optimist but the novel depicted almost everything and everyone r in a very dark light. Very disappointing read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Depressing and terrible ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Terrible.....what a waste of my time. I kept waiting for something to happen.......snore.....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read! First time author could hold the pretentious prose and literary references and rely more on her page-turning story, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not put it down. Great read.
SUEHAV More than 1 year ago
Wow, what a waste of time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had me by page 1. Loved writers wit. Was very involved with characters. Felt like I was in NYC. Truly wanted it to go on forever!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sensual, gripping, gritty, decadent, true. Loved it.
PBozanich More than 1 year ago
a cacophony of sensual pleasure, deftly painted by newcomer Stephanie Danler, makes this book a must-read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Grat