Thursday, February 22, 2018

Rating: "Sweetbitter" by Stephanie Danler

It is hard not to think of the work of Jay McInerney while reading Stephanie Danler’s first novel Sweetbitter (and impossible really, since he provides the first blurb on the back of the hardcover edition) and how dated his work, and sadly, this book is. Bright Lights, Big City was surely a revelation in its time, using second person narration to make it stand out from other similar works from the era. But looking back it has not aged well, and you see that in a lot of the qualities this book lacks. While its prose is sumptuous and reading it does feel like you are sweating your ass off in the kitchen of a high class Manhattan restaurant, it is sorely lacking in any kind of substance beyond the insular world of Tess, the book’s protagonist. It starts off with a really strong scene that starts from her escape from a cloistered small town she has grown up in to the big city of Manhattan, only to be stopped at a tollbooth where she does not have any change for a fare. It is a pretty big clue as to the pedantic nature of success and failure in the world Tess will find herself in when she becomes a waiter at an upscale New York restaurant. Danler’s attempts to give emotional weight to Tess’s growth, to her erotic obsession with both Simone, a poorly rendered ice queen and Jake, the hot tattooed bartender who is only a few measly notches above Christian Gray, to her friendship with Will, whose too nice of a guy to overshadow her obsession with Jake and to her downward spiral feel overwhelmingly cheap and predictable. From it’s good opening to its ending with a penultimate scene being rather tawdry and sad instead of provocative, this story of a woman on the brink feels hopelessly stale. But at least it is pretty to look at.

Rating: 3/5

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