Author: Stephanie Danler
Rating: 4.75 / 5
It’s books like this one that make me really glad that I decided to read what I’m called to. This book was calling to me from my university’s library shelves–probably all down to that color, too. I looked it up–a 3.29 rating on Goodreads, quite low. I actually did hesitate, and put it off. But I am so glad I went ahead with it in the end.
Many of the complaints of this novel come down to either “no plot,” “unlikeable/stupid protagonist,” or “pretentious.” It’s often instructive–and sometimes more helpful–to read the reviews of people who don’t like a book to see if their complaints sound like complaints you have made. As I think I’ve stated recently, a lack of plot doesn’t bother me a bit as long as it has characters or some loose story (both of which this novel definitely has). I also don’t need likable characters, not even a little bit. They’re nice, sometimes, but I’m generally more concerned with realistic, complicated, or interesting characters, all of which can actually interfere with the likability of characters. As for pretentious, sometimes it bothers me and it is charge I have leveled before. Is this book pretentious? Yeah, maybe. I guess they quote Keats to each other and stuff, which might seem pretentious (honestly it went over my head until it was explicitly stated because I have never read Keats). And there’s also the fact that something about it reminded me of The Princess Diaries, books which even as a tween I put in the “guilty pleasure” category, a categorization which nonetheless did not stop me from genuinely enjoying them at all. I think what reminded me of those earlier books when reading Sweetbitter was its coming of age-ness, but even more, all the drama and the confessional aspect. And for me, wanting to find out what happens next in the intimate details of a person’s life. I guess maybe to some people that’s the definition of pretentious–The Princess Diaries dressed up in Keats and clichés of beautiful broken bartenders. But in that case, it’s what I enjoy.
It’s a rare book that I actually feel like raising my initial rating of it after a week or two; almost always the tendency is in the opposite direction: after the immediate pull of the book has faded, my rating seems to decline as well. Not so with this one. I think the novel worked really well. The writing was good, often very evocative, and despite the charges of “no plot,” I often couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. It had a great melancholic mood. So even though I was shaking my head at the protagonist and rolling my eyes at some of the characters, I still found them compelling. I would maybe not go in for a book like this every time–I really crave diversity in the genres, moods, and voices I read (I love gothic novels, but I don’t want to read five in a row!)–but I do wish every book I picked up was as much to my tastes as this one.