At a certain point in your adulthood, as you grow into the role or at least identify what the concept of adulthood actually means to you, it becomes easier to spot a phony. Part of it is the experience of life; you’ve lived long enough, hurt enough and wear the scars like a beauty sash made of caution tape. These friends float into your life like party balloons, relationships with a short shelf life that start bright and colorful, ultimately full of nothing but air or gas. They either fade quickly or pop, loud and suddenly. Maybe you meet someone else who reminds you a little of the people you consider cheap souvenirs from your travels to find genuine friends and you’re hesitant to give them a chance.
But, you don’t want to consider yourself so impulsive and see value in giving this person a chance. Later, you look back on this impulsive decision; to not trust your gut is reckless, so you convince yourself it’ll be different the next time. Ten years or more pass and you run into those relics. They’re exactly the same and it’s sad. You see them for who they really are and the embarrassment or shame you feel, at your inability to see way back when that their personality was a compilation of surface-level traits meant to seem “cool” or “outsider” is palpable.
With prose so bloated and self-satisfied it verges into parody, Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter feels more like an abandoned blog or Livejournal. Despite her claims that this isn’t a memoir, a quick look at her background can see this is a semi-fictionalized memoir. Navel-gazing disguised as deep, ponderous questions and over-worked descriptions of food meant to read as deep life lessons that made me giggle. Fancy! Profound! Authentic! People from Ohio learn that the world is so much bigger and more exciting outside of Midwestern existence because it’s New York City baby! Sex is dangerous because…cocaine and masturbation! Food is meant to awaken ALL of the senses, losers!
Zero lack of self-awareness or reflection, the dull and witless main character learns an obvious lesson from the paper cut-outs/supporting characters assembled around her. The author doesn’t bother to provide an inner life for any of them beyond those who want to have sex with her, and the attempt at diversity is pathetically transparent. (That this book was developed into a TV series isn’t ironic, but it is indicative of the continued, baffling belief that such a benign, passive white female perspective is entertaining or valuable.) There are much more insightful, complex, scintillating books about girls from Ohio who moved to New York City and were served cold, hard reality while also finding their way to the truth about themselves. Some written more than half a century ago contain a balance of wit, tragedy and beauty not found in Sweetbitter. Lessons about using sex to barter your way into a career that make you laugh and blaze your way to the end of the book. And they come in all flavors, shapes and colors. Read those, not this.