Book Review: Stray

Published on 13 September 2023 at 10:00

‘I’ve loved some very sad people in my life and hurt myself trying to get them to change. They didn’t, and I have no business being surprised by it. People tell you who they are.’

Stephanie Danler


I bought the book Stray by Stephanie Danler on a whim recently. I initially picked it up as I was entrance by the cover (a bad habit), but as I read the outline on the back cover, I was instantly drawn in.

I’m so relieved I succumbed to my spontaneous book-buying on this occasion. Stray is one of the more beautiful and poignant memoirs I’ve read.

It tells the story of Stephanie, who moves home to California after publishing her first book. She documents some of the key relationships in her life: with her mother, who now is ill and is crippled by alcohol addiction. She talks about her father, an elusive figure, also prone to addiction, who disappears and reappears in her life at different and unexpected moments. Stephanie writes about her emotionally volatile relationship with ‘the monster’, who also happens to be married to someone else. Danler writes too, about her tumultuous teenage years; her own life experiences and the way they have shaped her. These experiences, intertwined with her family structure and romantic relationships, all of which have cataclysmically have bought her to the present moment.

Reading Stray ­- there were moments that the book gave me the feeling of ascending on a rollercoaster. Reading it - it feels with every page turned that something is coming. But it is not necessarily an event, more the felt sensation of relationship: love, yearning, betrayal, hopelessness, frustration and the consequences of all of these emotions. If you’ve ever felt let down in a relationship, or broken by it, or experienced deep joy with another person, this novel will resonate. It’s beautifully written with searing insights and thoughtful self-reflection: ‘what is shocking isn’t that we have lived through the traumas of our lives. The miracle is that we are still remotely permeable.’

Get it. It’s fantastic.

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