Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, And Triumphs Of America’s Youngest Sommelier, by Victoria James
This book would more accurately have been titled whine girl, as most of this book consists of the author whining about her hard life and how being a woman in her field was so difficult. This book manages to combine three different sorts of approaches together, and two of them I dislike. On the positive side, this book opens a view into the life of people whose status from serving elite wines to elite audiences can often lead to difficulty when it comes to staying out of debt (because of the fact that such people forget that they are servants and not high rollers themselves), but also lead to some rarified knowledge concerning the different elements that make for an enjoyable fine dining experience. On the negative side, though, this author mixes the memoir of a crappy life in which the author dishes about her dysfunctional family background, including definite issues of abuse and neglect, as well as her own vulnerability and its lamentable if predictable consequences as well as a deeply political screed in which the author seeks to demonstrate her hipster cred by celebrating New York’s phony diversity and engaging in various appeals to leftist identity politics, which definitely may leave a sour taste in the mouth of the reader, not unlike the taste of an overrated wine that doesn’t quite live up to the hype.
This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into seven parts, giving a chronological account of the author’s life from birth to age 28. The author begins the book with a note and then discusses her identity as a wine girl in a prologue. The first part of the book then discusses the author’s unhappy childhood from the ages of 7-14, including her first jobs and her friendship with the cook and dishwasher. After this the author talks about how she came to enter the world of serving drinks, learn the love cycle (something she appears not to have mastered well, if this book is any evidence), and deal with what the psych ward taught her brother as she experiences the trauma of her first rape. After that there is a section about her experiences bartending and being in wine school from 19 to 20, being a cellar rat and working on a wine harvest. The next part of the book looks at her life from 21 to 23 dealing with the blood sport aspect of wine and her experiencing at another restaurant. Her experiences from age 23 to 24 have her being careful about how wives view her, comparing factory and farm winery practices, and dealing with the mirage of a better life. It is only in the last two sections that mood turns around, where at the end of failed Korean startup venture the author meets her prince wine salesman around age 26, and then works in another Korean fusion restaurant where she ends up married and getting personally praised in restaurant reviews.
Throughout this book the author demonstrates herself to be overly touchy while simultaneously frequently naive, a terrible combination that makes her a somewhat unpleasant person to serve as the guide to any subject matter. If the book has a narrative which starts out in a great deal of trouble and problems and seeks to end triumphantly with the author as a purchase manager for a high-end Korean fusion restaurant in New York City, married to a kind man and feeling the warmth of love with her complicated family, the author herself is not the sort of person who the reader may wish to cheer on. It’s good that she was in a happy place when writing this book, but she could have been a more decent human being about the way she thought about others. The title of this book appears to be the author’s way of trying to turn the slanders that she faced as a young woman in an industry that appears to exploit young women rather heavily in a variety of ways into a badge of honor, but the author does not come off as an honorable or decent sort of human being, and her strident feminism only makes it harder to like her as a person and to wish her well or to think well of her defective moral and political worldview.