Instaread Summary of Sweetbitter A Novel by Stephanie Danler
Four out of five stars
From the summary, it is clear that this is a story about a woman going to New York City to seek her fortune and that it is likely that it is targeted at people that live there. Tess is a 22-year-old woman from an unstated, conservative small town in the Midwestern United States that travels to New York City in her car.
She quickly gets a job as a backwaiter in one of the most renowned restaurants in the city. Tess is hired because she is a 51-percenter. In the terminology of the business, 49 percent of doing the job well is the mechanics, such as learning the menu. The remainder consists of the other skills such as relating to the customers and having specific knowledge about the food and drinks.
The summary describes the complex interactions between Tess and her co-workers, specifically Jake and Simone. Simone is older than Jake and when his mother died at an early age, he had only Simone to look after him. That has not stopped Jake and Simone from being occasional lovers, making it difficult for Tess to develop the relationship with Jake that she wants. Tess also finds herself sexually involved with others, further complicating the story.
Sex and how it is used by both genders to advance their aims is a fundamental component of the story, from the summary it is clear that it is part of Tess’s attempt to become a player in the city. The last line of the summary is:
“In this way, the novel itself risks normalizing and reproducing sexism and rape culture, which makes the novel part of— as opposed to a critique of— the problem.”
The most telling points in the summary that make it clear that this is about New York City appear in a few lines. This section is from the description of the Simone character.
“Simone’s character embodies an irony of New York City. While the city itself is vital and dynamic, its incessant demands on its occupants often end up forcing them into stagnancy and even decline.”
One of the secondary characters is Mrs. Neely, a former Rockette. She often comes into the restaurant and sits alone, with a vacant look on her face. The power of the city is mentioned once again in the section called “City Life.”
“Ostensibly, Mrs. Neely is a sassy, independent old lady who has weathered many decades in New York. But “Sweetbitter” is ambiguous about whether it’s Mrs. Neely who’s conquered the city, or if it’s the city that’s subdued Mrs. Neely.”
With extremely complex relationships between the players, some of which seems to be claimed to be unique to New York City and the undercurrent of drug use and “recreational” sex, it is clear from this summary that the plot is packed with events. Most likely too much and it is clear that the book is another installment of the small town girl going to the big city and finding it too big for her. The summary does not convince the reader that this story contains enough of a difference to justify reading it.
This book was made available for free for review purposes.