For those of you who may not know, besides being a wine nerd, I’m also a book nerd. I work as an editor for an independent publisher, and I will read…pretty much any form of fiction. But what I’ve really been enjoying lately are authors who are combining my two passions: wine fiction. Yes, if you haven’t read The Winemakers by Jan Moran or Janet Hubbard’s Vengeance in the Vineyards series, I highly recommend them. But today I present to you a somewhat sordid tale of one woman’s food, wine, and life education: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.

About the Book: Eager to shake the dust of her rural, midwestern life, twenty-two year old Tess escapes to the comfort of the chaotic in New York City. With no other experience other than as a barista at her hometown’s coffeeshop, Tess looks for the best restaurant in town to find work. Vastly under qualified, the staff manager sees something in her: She’s the 51% who has a little something extra to offer — gumption? curiosity? Even Tess doesn’t know, but she pours herself, heart and soul, into her new gig as front of house staff.

Tess learns what it means to be in the service industry: That the glamorous exterior of fine-dining masks more than just the cockroaches infesting the walls; learning about food and wine means learning about the people who prepare are serve it; and that finding a place in the industry may mean losing one’s self to it — for better or worse.

“It was a hazard of my job — or maybe it was my nature, maybe that’s what they’d hired me for — that I was too hospitable to strangers. On street corners, in bars, in line, I felt a duty to entertain, as if I were clocked in.”

In a way it’s a coming of age story, but for adults. Anyone who’s ever been adrift — personally or professionally — will find a kind of comfort in Tess’s journey. And anyone who hasn’t…well…

What You’ll Learn: You’ll learn what it means to be in the service industry, from front to back of house. With the first person narration you feel the aches — mentally, physically, and emotionally — that Tess and her coworkers shoulder everyday and into the long nights. You’ll learn that sometimes bad decisions are made for good reasons and that good decisions sometimes have bad ramifications. Most importantly, whether you’ve worked in service or not, you’ll figure out through the cast of characters where you belong in the line — and that may be the most telling thing of all.

Wine Pairing: Anything that makes you feel that sense of escape. A cool crisp Sancerre comes to mind.

More Info: I purchased Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler on Amazon. (Paperback: $11). Shortly after writing this, I learned that the book is scheduled to be a show on Starz this May, 2018. For more information about Sweetbitter and the author, you can also visit Stephanie Danler’s personal website.

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