Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

When I was in my twenties, one of the three jobs I had was barmaid at a very popular pub in Clapham, South London. I got the job when new to the area and on a whim one Saturday afternoon after lamenting my lack of cash (despite doing a 9-5) I asked behind the bar if they had any work and to my horror, they hired me on the spot (I possibly elaborated the truth a tiny bit when asked about my previous experience). That night I pulled pints and hefted ice, shouting back orders at drunk people, choosing who I wanted to serve, cutting my feet on shards of glass (I never wore flip flops on a shift again) and getting nicely pissed along the way. I completely loved it.

I worked at that place part time for near on two years, discovering a another family of sorts, and experiencing all the highs and lows that come hand in hand with such intensity. Many loves were found and lost at this place, but I was one of the lucky ones – I met my husband to be there.

It’s because of the experience of working in this intense environment (except on a Tuesday, the pub was always quiet on a Tuesday) that when I read the synopsis of Sweetbitter, I was instantly hooked – young girl moves to NYC on a whim, needs to find a job and decides to take the first job she’s offered, which happens to be at the sort of restaurant that New York was renowned for in the 80’s & 90’s. It was all I ever wanted when I was that age – to move to New York on a whim and find a job which electrifies and consumes her. Because that’s what happens to Tess. The restaurant and all the people within it swallow her up and – well, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether they spit her out, but suffice to say, she learns quite a lot about herself in the process.

It’s a fairly romantic vision of how this kind of experience pans out but there’s everything there – passion, heartbreak, hedonism, stark reality, non reality – it’s a great read, maybe a little pretentious at times, but I’m more than willing to forgive a few pretensions when it can also remind me of the fun that living a young, frenetic life can be. I wouldn’t ever want to do it again, but I’m very glad I did it, and I’m very glad I can read about other people doing it too.

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