by Stephanie Danler
This charming and delightfully intricate first novel describes, unusually for its generation, the world of work. Tess, a midwestern girl, has just moved to New York; desperate for work, she lucks into a job as a back waiter at a tony café in Union Square, based on the Union Square Café. This isn’t merely a stage set: the novel is truly interested in how the work world works, how the wheels turn.
Everyone in the restaurant gives Tess a different nickname – Little One, BabyMonster, Fluff, Skipper – because she really is an unformed bundle of potential. She has an appetite for liquor, an even bigger appetite for coke, and she’s addicted to the approval of people whose approval is rare and precious. She is naturally hospitable, attentive to her duty, and takes time to taste experience.