The shifting winds of fortune in the city that never sleeps comprise a special canon, and its latest entrant is Stephanie Danler’s debut novel, Sweetbitter. Tess, an urban parvenu and “backwaiter” for a restaurant that reads an awful lot like Union Square Café, where the author once worked, recounts her yearlong story partially in second person, a nod (along with the plentiful cocaine) to Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. Danler’s ripe prose evokes other city stories too–the broiling sculleries of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and the bar stench of Richard Price’s Lush Life. Tess is so brimming with naive potential that neither devilish bartender Jake nor enigmatic would-be sommelier Simone can resist her. But ingenues can’t stay innocent forever, and Tess’s loss is where Sweetbitter finds success.
This appears in the May 30, 2016 issue of TIME.
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