NEW YORK (AP) — "Sweetbitter," (Alfred A. Knopf), by Stephanie Danler
Tess comes to New York in the summer of 2006, 22 and aching for adventure. Things seem to fall into place when she aces an interview at a famous restaurant in Union Square — unnamed, but bearing quite a bit of resemblance to Danny Meyer's famed Union Square Cafe, where the author actually worked — and enters the world of fine dining that's equal parts glamour and drudgery.
There she meets the worldly Simone, who teaches her about wine and food, and bad-boy bartender Jake, on whom she develops an insatiable crush. Though at first her fellow servers think she's "too pretty" to make it in the cutthroat serving world, she works hard and eventually proves herself.
Meanwhile, she gets swept up in the hedonistic lifestyle of servers, with plenty of late-night partying, awash in alcohol and drugs. Her world opens up as she develops a palate for the finer food and wine found at the restaurant and nearby farmer's market. The world seems to be at her fingertips, but that turns out to be an illusion, as she eventually realizes how constricting the service industry can be and how Simone and Jake's lives aren't quite as charmed as they first appeared.
Danler's novel paints a visceral, evocative portrait of what it's like to move to New York in your early twenties. Her spot-on descriptions of New York 10 years ago and Tess' evolution from naif to world-weary server, all in just one year, elevate "Sweetbitter" — the opposite of "Bittersweet" — above its chic-lit trappings into an irresistible coming-of-age tale that can truly be savored.