Sweetbitter: Book vs. TV Show

As I’ve previously done comparisons of book-to-screen-adaptations for the likes of Still Star-Crossed and Famous in Love, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to talk about the book I just finished – Sweetbitter. The way this goes is pretty self-explanatory. I will talk about the shared plot and then compare the two. Here goes nothing!

General Plot

Tess was not happy with her life and ventures to New York City to pursue life. She doesn’t have a plan, she doesn’t have any kind of aspiration of what or who she wants to be, she simply wants experiences. Soon she finds herself in the midst of the tumultuos life as a backwaiter in a prestigious restaurant and all the drama that comes with being part of the staff.

Book

Sweetbitter

CW: excessive drug and alcohol consumption, sexism, racism, verbal/physical abuse, sexual harassment

I was first drawn to this book and story because when I was younger I used to be a server as well. Granted, I didn’t work in fancy restaurants but upscale hotels instead, still, the overall gist of things seemed similar enough to me. I had my first real job in that line of work when I was 15 and up to about 20% into the story (and aside from the heavy drugs), it really felt like an accurate representation of my daily life back then.

A lot of critics (for both the book and the show) didn’t understand that not everyone is looking for something bigger and better at all times. I get really defensive whenever I read stuff like that, because we need to get rid of the notion that there is anything wrong with working a job like that on the long run. Yes, it wasn’t the right thing for me personally. The plates were too hot, I couldn’t even relax when I was asleep because I constantly dreamed about messing up orders and running back and forth between the floor and kitchen, but overall I loved chatting with the guests. I loved making that connection with strangers and through that making their experience at our hotel a better one. Some people are content and actually happy to work as a server and consequently their way up the food chain in a restaurant or similar establishment and that is perfectly fine.

Having said that and really having appreciated that look behind the curtains of what life as a server (especially in training) can be like, that is where my love for this book ends. Tess is your typically lost 20-something pretty girl and that’s not to say that we don’t need stories like that either, but the way she went through life was infuriating. I am really not someone who gets judgy about whether people drink or don’t drink alcohol, but drugs … it was tough reading about that topic so nonchalantly. While Tess definitely has her low moments, the part of drugs or even so much as a consideration of stopping to take drugs is never addressed.

What bothered me the utmost about the book were all the toxic relationships though! I don’t think a single person ever said a tender thing to anyone aloud ever. They “joked” about how women were only good for cleaning and men were foolish if they ever believed a word a woman said. Bosses slept with employees for favours and even led them to mental breakdowns. But worst of all was Tess and Jake’s “relationship”. It was one of those where the girl obsesses over the super pretentious guy and he ignores her unless it suits him. He treated her terribly, brought her to tears on several occasions and even roughed her up during sex to a point where she had bruises all over her body. It was revealed that he was damaged by some events in the past, but that doesn’t excuse his behaviour!? And still, after everything, Tess just wanted to save him.

I got more and more furious as I read on and then there was this clear lack of structure or cohesion to the story overall. Again, I wouldn’t mind reading about someone wanting to make it in the service industry, but this was just a manic depiction of manipulative people and a young girl making the same mistakes over and over. Did she learn from them? I don’t even know.

Fazit: 1.5/5 stars! (click on the cover to get re-directed to Goodreads!)

TV Show

 

Usually when Starz has a new show, I get really excited. I hadn’t yet finished the book and thought this could be a really interesting show. Was it lacking in diversity from the looks of it? Definitely, but I was willing to give it a shot nonetheless.

It turned out that maybe I was a bit too overzealous? The running time for the episodes is barely half an hour and there are only 6 (?) episodes planned for the first season. With a slow paced story like this one, that seems a fairly odd choice. You barely get to tell anything or start a thought before the episode is already over again. If I were to make a mini-series of six episodes only, I would definitely make them longer. That is not to say that they don’t plan on more seasons in the future, but critics haven’t had too many good things to say and I don’t think ratings were all that great either so far …

Stephanie Danler, who wrote the book, was involved in the adaptation. She tried to make it accessible to non-readers and wasn’t afraid to change the narrative here and there, but I am not sure how much she really succeeded. I think an issue with the show is that she makes references to more or less important parts of the story that the viewer simply cannot understand, because it’s only mentioned in passing while it was fully described in the book.

To me there is just no time to explore the more sensual parts of the story because we are rushed through the experience with food and people and events all packed into such a short running time. Maybe it would work better if you binged the episodes, since it wouldn’t rip you out of the atmosphere every single time you just got used to what was happening?

Conclusion

I cannot really advocate for either of those two? I am sure there are people out there who appreciate the relatable and quite frankly mostly accurate portrayal of work as a server and just starting out in that industry. Whereas other shows and books mostly focus on what’s going on in the kitchen, it is nice to know there is content for what’s happening in the front of the house as well. If only they refined the show a little more …

Have you read or watched Sweetbitter? Do you have any thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments below!

22 thoughts on “Sweetbitter: Book vs. TV Show

  1. I love your introduction, and how you emphasized that being a server is nothing to be looked down upon, Kat! It’s such an important thing to keep in mind.

    I’ve seen both the book and the TV show hyped beyond recognition, but your post made me much more hesitant about them, especially because you mentioned the portrayal/romanticization of toxic relationships.

    I hope your next read is better! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Lily! Working as a server may not have been my dream job, but that doesn’t mean it was something I am ashamed of having done or that people don’t choose it as their life career. It’s such a strange stigma to me.

      And yeah … I was hoping for much better from that story. Honestly, the show isn’t out entirely (I think there are still 2 episodes about to air) and I guess they have made some changes, but I don’t know how much they’ll really go into the Tess and Jake relationship.

      Again, thanks! I hope so too haha

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy either of these Kat! I hadn’t heard of the book or the show, but I think I’ll pass on both. I don’t think it’s really my thing, sepecially that relationship between Tess and Jake yikes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I was about ready to strangle that useless boy and Tess along with him just because she kept falling for his crap. I totally understand that you wouldn’t want to subject yourself to that particular story.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve heard about this and I was considering watching / reading it, but so much of what you said was just a big “nope” for me. Thank you so much for this post, now I can definitely spend my time more wisely! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always feel bad knowing that I am the one who put off people from reading something, but I just really cannot recommend it with a clear conscience. I was super excited to read it and it ended up really disappointing me. I think I need to check out some positive reviews to understand how others were so enamored by it?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay so I completely get it now, where this really, really low rating comes from. I mean, this book sounds quite terrible and the relationships in it? NO NO NO NO NO. Also, yes to everything you said at the very start of this post, about how being a server in the long run and enjoying it, some people perfectly do and that’s fine, I’m always a bit mad when people look down on these other people, just because of that. It’s soooo dumb. Anyway, I really think I will avoid the book there and the TV show as well -there are so many better tv shows you’d recommend me ;). I hope your next read will be betteeeeeeeeeeer…. well hopefully it will be 😉 ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I give low rating so very rarely, especially THIS low, so I am really glad I got across some reasonable arguments as to why I could not recommend it. I still have 2 episodes of the show missing, so I don’t know if they’ll really do the exact same thing as in the book, but the toxic dude grabbed her around her neck while kissing her last episode and it raised some flags. I know that some people like it rough, but … ugh … I don’t have to be on board with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah I get what you mean about people needing to be less snobby about people who work as servers (/in the service industry in general)- I’ve done it as well and there are pros and cons to it like lots of jobs. I’d have trouble with all the casual drug use and toxic relationships as well though :/ It’s a pity that the adaptation didn’t work either. Fantastic review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I will never understand people looking down on other because of their job. Like, how dare they??
      That book overall was just a real disappointment to me and the adaptation is strange. I can’t really see it becoming a success the way they are releasing it.

      Like

  6. Great post Kat, and I have to say after reading this I don’t think I’ll be watching Sweetbitter or reading the book. The fact that the relationships are so toxic is a major no-go for me, and I’m going to admit to not being a fan of the whole drug thing the story seems to have going on either. Especially because you said it seems to be handled so nonchalantly.
    I suppose on one hand for the adaptation it’s good the author was involved, and tried to make it accessible for people who hadn’t read the book, but it seems kind of short for an adaptation. I mean, if you take commercial breaks into account as well (or do Starz not have those?!) there are movies that are longer than this mini-series.
    Again great post. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I just really cannot recommend that book. I was quite disappointed, to be honest, because I had really been looking forward to it. But the relationship was terrible and the drugs bothered me. I know that some people really use them as excessively as they did in this book, but you can’t just write that without commenting on it. Even when the girl passed out and got a fever from a bad trip, she never even thought “hmm, maybe I really should stay away from those drugs?” It annoyed me to no end.
      It’s definitely 30 minutes without the commercial breaks. I don’t know if Starz has them. I mostly watch what people put online after they watch it from the Starz app haha

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh that’s even more of a shame then, it always sucks when books don’t live up to your expectations for them. Sounds like there wasn’t much redeeming about Sweetbitter in the end, you need to have redeeming qualities in your characters, if not what’s the point in highlighting the bad things they do.
        Oh, OK, that makes more sense, but still I’ve seen movies longer than that mini series will be. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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