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SWEETBITTER: A Restaurant, A City, and Growing Up

Open a bottle of wine and have a spread of fine cheeses to munch on as you listen to Stephanie Danler’s assured debut, Sweetbitter.

Sweetbitter is a coming-of-age tale set in New York City in the mid-2000s. Tess has just escaped the clutches of a mundane life in middle America and driven herself to New York City where she hopes she will have a bold, exciting life. With no actual job prospects, she applies to be a server in one of the most well-known restaurants in the city.

Sweetbitter is broken out into sections for each season in the first year of Tess’s city life. We get a glimpse into drug-fueled nights when the cooks and wait staff go out after the restaurant shuts down for the night. We meet an eclectic mix of characters–from regular customers (like the woman who doesn’t actually eat) to the restaurant staff that has been there for years–and we witness Tess’s relationships. She falls fast and hard for Jake, a moody and mysterious bartender. She idolizes Simone, a seasoned server that Tess tries to emulate. She befriends Ariel and Will who make her feel as if she is part of a family at the restaurant. Even New York City itself is a character in Tess’s story; its pulse is a constant presence.

Stephanie Danler captures all of the feelings of satisfaction, excitement, exhaustion, and loneliness that Tess’s experiences of learning, discovering, and growing invoke with a strong, clear voice; meanwhile, Alex McKenna deftly brings Tess and her story to life with her steady narration.

As a final bonus, Sweetbitter also gives us luxurious descriptions of food and drink: oysters, heirloom tomatoes, red wines, white wines, truffles, and more. By the end of the story, you’ll either want to get a delicious meal out, cook one at home, or, better yet, do both!

Listen to an excerpt now: Sweetbitter