Monday, September 26, 2016

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler ****

After retirement one has a tendency to reminisce and extract lessons to share with children and grandchildren and anyone who might listen. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is about Tess, a twenty-two-year-old from Ohio who moves to New York (City) and works in an upscale restaurant, making it a great book for foodies and New Yorkers, but what about the rest of us?

Much of Tess's story is the universal experience of growing up and finding, or not finding, one's place in the world, and hopefully someone to share that place with you. Tess struggles finding direction.

Is service work, well-paid service work, temporary or a career? Tess is smart and motivated. She studies food and wine and service. She becomes accomplished, but still can not figure out whether she is just a good student or on a road to her future.

The same is true for her personal life. New York nightlife is a challenge, but she figures it out. Again, this success is not all that satisfying.

Here I return to the retired point of view. Danler reminds me of the struggles on my own early twenties, so much so that I have no idea how I found myself, my career, and my partner. In the end, I felt more humility and gratitude, than any expertise to pass to the next generation.

Sometimes this is the result of literature and a welcome alternative when so much writing pretends to know the answers.

One of the lessons of service that Tess learned is, "People came back to the restaurant just to have that feeling of being taken care of," but the servers had to always remember...
"Regulars are not friends. They are guests. Bob Keating? A racist, and a bigot. ... he has no idea he's being served by an old queen. Never show yourself."
After a year in New York, Tess develops strength and attitude. When being accosted by a stranger in a bar...
"I know it is quiet at your job ... so I understand the need to impose yourself on whatever docile-looking female you find ... If you want someone to put up with you, may I suggest your waitress because that is lit-er-ally what you're paying her to do right now."
Tess grows up, becomes stronger and more independent, but is she on the road to happiness?

No comments: