Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Stephanie Danler’

sweetbitterStephanie Danler’s first novel arrives like the tangy summer cocktail you didn’t know you wanted but can’t stop drinking. Sweetbitter (Knopf, digital galley) turns out to be the perfect title for this coming-of-age, living-in-New York tale, a heady concoction of youthful yearning and impulse.

Coffee-shop waitress Tess, 22, arrives in New York in 2006 and gets a job as a backwaiter at a landmark restaurant, where she is yelled at by the chef, hazed by her fellows and mentored by the older server Simone. She learns about fine wine and good food, from the seductiveness of figs to the aggressiveness of winter lettuces. She is just as hungry for experience, and indulges in after-hour drinks and drugs with the staff, and despite Simone’s warnings, falls for bartender Jake. “I could tell you to leave him alone. That he’s complicated, not in a sexy way, but in a damaged way. I could tell you damage isn’t sexy, it’s scary. You’re still young enough to think every experience will improve you in some long-term way, but it isn’t true. How do you suppose damage gets passed on?”

Tess pays no attention and gives into desire, consequences be damned. Danler writes the same way, giving voice to the reckless invincibility of being young and in love with love and life. When a buttoned-down college acquaintance shows up at the restaurant and snobbishly suggests that Tess be his table’s waitress, Tess hides behind a polite smile.  “I wanted to say,  My life is full. I chose this life because it’s a constant assault of color and taste and light and it’s raw and ugly and fast and it’s mine. And you’ll never understand. Until you live it, you don’t understand.”

Or you could read Sweetbitter.

modernWhen do you grow up? What rite of passage marks you as an adult? College graduation?  Buying a house? Marriage? Parenthood? Or is it the first time you have sex? Or how about when you first find out your kids are having sex? Two of the three couples in Emma Straub’s new novel Modern Lovers (Riverhead/Penguin, digital galley) mull over such mid-life mysteries as neighbors in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park. The other couple — teens Ruby and Harry — are too busy obeying hormones to ask anything beyond, “Do you have something?”

Harry’s parents — Elizabeth and Andrew — were classmates at Oberlin with one of Ruby’s moms, Zoe, and they had a band called Kitty’s Mustache. A fourth bandmate, Lydia, broke away and soared to fame with a song Elizabeth wrote, “Mistress of Myself,” then died of a heroin overdose at 27. Now, 20 years later, the past comes calling when Hollywood wants to make a biopic of  Lydia, and needs the other three to sign over rights. That’s ok with Zoe, who is coping with Ruby’s moods and with her faltering marriage to Jane, the chef  at their trendy restaurant Hyacinth. Elizabeth, now a real estate agent, thinks the movie idea is cool and is surprised that her trust-fund husband Andrew is so adamantly against it. Andrew, who has never had a meaningful job, wants to put life on pause while he sorts things out, so he gets involved with a local yoga/meditation commune. Meanwhile, rebellious Ruby, who has just graduated from high school, fools around with mild-mannered Harry, who can’t believe his luck.

Straub is a sharp, observant writer, and Modern Lovers is a diverting comedy of manners much like her last novel, The Vacationers. But the characters aren’t nearly as interesting and cool as they think they are — Andrew is especially annoying — and their meanderings don’t really add up to much. At one point, a marriage counselor asks Zoe and Jane why they aren’t asking each other the hard questions, and they reply that things are ok and they don’t want to rock the boat for fear it might topple. Mmm. Modern Lovers could do with more rocking and rolling. Instead, it glides along, easily handling the gentle swells of modern middle age.

 

 

Read Full Post »