Ladies Like These: Danler’s Sweetbitter

Stephanie-Danler
Image lifted from alphasixty

This story was a strange one, weird like fate. In the beginning, Danler’s language injected me with Twitter-mania, that her writing voice had been kept so pure, so untouched by the standard New York Times style although I knew she had gotten an MFA. She was The Paris Review. It was like Gertrude Stein telling Hemingway, you can be a journalist or a writer but you can’t be both. It was like de Botton explaining how Proust’s writing made familiar objects, familiar feelings and tropes seem new again. It was everything I identified with fine writing.

Words came in triplets, and it was all Kerouac but this time, a palate for drugs, sex and wine… Gaumenfreude. Her writing was Kerouac holy but like the protagonist carrying a copy of his book, hard to stomach till the end. It starts with Kerouac but it doesn’t end that way. On the Road was written into the surface text, so you knew that wasn’t where the Real story was. The Real story alluded to another book.

In the beginning, I was living the protagonist, the girl who “came here in a car like everybody else,” I could just see her head popping out the window as she crossed George Washington Bridge, I know mine did. This girl spent Thanksgiving watching The Godfather and eating Thai food just like I did at that age.

Then Danler introduces you to a world where the service workers are noble and their knowledge of food and life are aristocratic. It was love at first sight, everything was. Noble grapes. At this moment, the protagonist was as educated/ developed as a single-celled amoeba all of 22, all bounce and potential, latching onto the knowledge that one older woman could give her… about wine, life and the art of paying attention.

The boy between them was a Kierkegaard grad school drop out with polaroids of Berlin and Morocco.

By the end of the novel, I realized I was actually the antagonist, the 36-year-old senior server (without her man-slave or power) but nonetheless, having also constructed my own prison that was not the best restaurant in New York City but Berlin, writing a blog no one reads and going on about an art world I was not apart of yet. For all the girls that start the journey, just like everyone else, there must be tons of women antagonists just like this senior server (wearing Clark Kent glasses with frizzy hair and red lipstick), just like me, not entering the “circle of marriage, children, acquisitions, retirement funds.” Where do all these ladies go? They go to Sicily… homage to The Godfather and as her story shows, they take care of each other- shaping destinies, teaching or by being your favorite guest.

“Her poems that no one read, her apartment that she could never leave, her expertise so niche it was skeletal. She hadn’t made a choice. Someone else had.” Danler

Disillusionment had hit… the Sweetbitter.

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