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.
These are the words that introduce us to Tess, the 22-year-old narrator of Sweetbitter - and you will never again listen to a debut coming-of-age novel as stunning as this one.
Shot from a mundane, provincial past, Tess comes to New York in the stifling summer of 2006. Alone, knowing no one, living in a rented room in Williamsburg, she manages to land a job as a backwaiter at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. This begins the year we spend with Tess as she starts to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing, and privileged life she has chosen as well as the remorseless and luminous city around her. What follows is her education: in oysters, champagne, the appellations of Burgundy, friendship, cocaine, lust, love, and dive bars.
As her appetites awaken - for food and wine but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging - we see her helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. With an orphan's ardor, she latches on to Simone, a senior server at the restaurant who has lived in ways Tess only dreams of, and against the warnings of coworkers she falls under the spell of Jake, the elusive, tatted up, achingly beautiful bartender. These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess' most exhilarating and painful lesson of all.
Stephanie Danler intimately defines the crucial transition from girl to woman, from living in a place that feels like nowhere to living in a place that feels like the center of the universe. She deftly conjures the nonstop and purely adrenalized world of the restaurant - conversations interrupted, phrases overheard, relationships only partially revealed. And she evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, the fragility and brutality of being young in New York with heart-stopping accuracy.
A lush novel of the senses - of taste and hunger, seeing and understanding, love and desire - Sweetbitter is ultimately about the power of what remains after disillusionment and the transformation and wisdom that come from our experiences, sweet and bitter.
©2016 Stephanie Danler (P)2016 Random House Audio