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Stray

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Member Reviews

A brave story of what the author was battling, all while seeming to get her life together. As Danler's Sweetbitter was coming into the world, she continued to struggle with her own origin story, and the bad decisions she couldn't stop making. Honest and raw - a true success.

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If you're looking for whatever appeal Danler portrayed in Sweetbitter, you won't find it here.
Although her biography is candid, narrating her childhood with an alcoholic mother and an absent father, Danler's prose isn't engaging enough to make the reader feel anything.
Her story doesn't pull you in as much as make you feel like a spectator looking at a fish tank and waiting for the fishes to do something interesting.

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This book was so interesting. I loved Sweetbitter, and it was lovely to hear about the author who wrote it and the trials and tribulations of her life. I felt like I truly got to know her, and that was a great feeling for the memoir.

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People never disappoint, at least in terms of how complicated their lives are and what they might reveal if we listen closely enough. And Stray, a memoir by the writer Stephanie Danler, delivers on that score in its fearlessness and honesty and revelatory nature.

The story of Danler’s still young life (she’s in her mid-30s) is told in three sections: Mother, Father and Monster. The so called “Monster” is Danler’s married boyfriend who, big surprise, confesses his undying love as long as it’s on his terms.

Only toward the end of the book does Danler, who is nothing if not self-aware, admit to herself why she cannot seem to break the chains of that doomed relationship: “In the morning I wake up and sit in front of the mirror we fucked in front of eight hours earlier. It comes as no surprise that I see the Monster in the reflection. It was always me.”

It’s a poignant realization and it presages the growing up that Danler embraces toward the happy ending of this sordid tale.

Many readers may find the “Monster” the least of her problems. Her neglectful parents (her father fled the family when Danler was three before making a comeback) could easily be labeled “Monster #1” and “Monster #2.” Her mother is a selfish raging alcoholic ultimately disabled by a stroke that leaves Danler and her sister struggling to find the best way to care and forgive her for past transgressions. The stroke is so severe that at one point, Danler “walks” her mother on a leash. It’s a description that doesn’t easily fade.

And then there’s Danler’s father, a larger than life businessman-drug addict who lives life in gigantic ups and downs, having it all, losing it all, living in upper middle class homes before mingling with the homeless.

“He had that gilded, incorrigible quality that women went crazy for,” Danler writes. “His charm was legendary. He could talk to anyone. He gave impromptu speeches. . . .”

In high school, he “rescues” Danler—moving her to Colorado to get her away from her mother—but then abruptly abandons her in his large house where she does what out of control, lost teenagers will do: plenty of drugs.

Somehow, in the middle of all this, Danler finds her way to a good college, reads endlessly, and moves to New York to find work as a waitress. She used the raw material of that career for her novel Sweetbitter, which got rave reviews, sold well, and was turned into a television series.

It’s after that success that this memoir begins. Danler moves back to California and to a house in Laurel Canyon where members of Fleetwood Mac once lived. It’s there, signed to do a second novel, that she instead turns her focus to her bewildering upbringing.

For the most part, the reader will be on Danler’s side as she negotiates her abusive past and current neuroses, although hers is a story of a nearly-wrecked life with privilege. She lives in Europe, goes to good schools, takes vacations, and is beautiful. Life is forgiving to the beautiful and educated.

What saves this memoir from plunging into the “poor little rich girl” fate where it sometimes veers toward is the affecting and beautiful writing. As Danler writes nearly at the end of her memoir: “We don’t receive the things we want because we deserve them. Most of the time we get them because we are blind and lucky. It’s in the act of having, the daily tending, that we have an opportunity to become deserving. It’s not a place to be reached. It is a constant betwixt and between. It’s in that hollow, liminal space that I think—hope?—humility can be achieved.”

We should all be so lucky

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There are certain types of books that live with you for a long time, books that took courage to write. EDUCATED, GLASS CASTLE, WILD are among these and so is STRAY. Books topics seem to go in cycles and with the publication of HOLLYWOOD PARK and STRAY we are seeing well-crafted stories about surviving a childhood where normal was not part of the picture in growing up. As I was reading this, the disjointedness of the story bothered me as each short chapter jumped from place to place and from time to time, but that’s remaining true to a story that tells of such a confused childhood and learning to transition into a successful adulthood.

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This was a raw, beautifully written memoir about a young woman's relationship with her parents, and with herself. Stephanie Danler, who published her debut novel "Sweetbitter" in 2016, writes about her upbringing in California with two difficult parents, who separated when she and her sister were young. Each is unreliable in different ways and both struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. As an adult, Stephanie encounters challenges in her own life, particularly in her romantic relationships. The book is loosely organized around her mother, father, and two men she is seeing, but "Stray" also moves around a lot in time to tell her story. The writing is clear, poetic, and sometimes tough to read. Danler is honest about her parents' flaws, but she is just as honest about her own issues and the mistakes she has made. I felt anger and sadness on her behalf when reading about traumatic events involving her parents, but there are also kind and empathetic figures in her life, such as her aunt, parents of friends, and her boyfriend. Whereas "Sweetbitter" was all about the pace of living in New York, "Stray" offers vivid descriptions of California. For those who enjoy memoirs with strong writing and family dysfunction, "Stray" is an engrossing read.

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Although I didn't love STRAY quite as much as the author's debut novel, SWEETBITTER, I still found it incredibly captivating. Danler doesn't hold back in this memoir --- she criticizes herself, her parents, and her relationships. I love a highly introspective viewpoint, and Danler certainly delivered in that regard. I'm still not quite sure how Danler managed to cover so many topics (addiction, fear of commitment, precarious relationships with both her parents, etc.) in just 233 pages, but she did. And she did it brilliantly. Needless to say, Danler has definitely cemented herself as an auto-buy author for me!

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An exquisitely uncomfortable glimpse into the glamour-less world of a new and noteworthy author. Stray is heartbreaking as life, with a dusting of hope for good measure.

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Stray is a beautifully written memoir about family and addiction set in Southern California. It is structured in three parts: Mother, Father, & Monster (the author's married lover). I feel like we get a clear picture of her mother as an abusive alcoholic, and her father as a drug addict, but the monster, her obsession, remains somewhat of a mystery. I hope in the future Danler will write another installment of her life's story. I would pick it up in a heartbeat.

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I received an ARC of this memoir from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Brutally honest memoir by a young woman who is struggling to make a stable life for herself after living through a childhood of great loss.

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Reminiscent of Joan Didion. Sad, hopeful, melancholy. Enjoyed reading it and looking forward to more by this author.

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L.A. version of The Glass Castle but not as captivating. Reader is indifferent to story; writing doesn't grab anyone in to the plot.

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Stephanie Danler's memoir is sure to please fans of Sweetbitter and is a good purchase for collections where that title and memoirs are popular.

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This is author Stephanie Danler's memoir that narrates her troubled years between the publication of her first novel, Sweetbitter, and 2018, when she creates a new family with her husband and son. The book describes her rocky relationships with her mother, father, and a married man. Danler's writing is descriptive, tying in the California landscape to her desolate and dry heart. I always look forward to Danler's work. I hope she narrates the audiobook.

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Stephanie Danler’s memoir, Stray, is an exploration of her childhood and early adulthood, and the relationships she has with her alcoholic mother, addict father, and her married boyfriend. I was excited to read this book because I enjoyed her debut novel, Sweetbitter, very much—it was compulsively readable and I didn’t want to put it down until I had read it in its entirety. Stray, though different from Sweetbitter in obvious ways, was similarly as riveting in its writing style.

The book is separated into three parts. The first describes her relationship with her mother, who raised her and her sister without their father for the majority of Danler’s young life, her mother’s ongoing struggle with alcoholism, and deterioration into ill-health. The second part of Stray examines Danler’s relationship with her father, who Danler lived with as a teenager in Colorado after her mother kicked her out of their California home. Danler’s father struggles with addiction, and Danler describes her life with him and her growing knowledge of his drug addiction, as well as his many bouts of rehab. The final section is about Danler’s relationship with a married man, who she calls The Monster. She describes the toxicity of their relationship, how torturous it is for her, and her realization that they can never be together. She also describes a growing attachment to the Love Interest, a new boyfriend she begins dating at the start of the book. It is her relationships with him, her aunt, and her close friends that help her survive the most difficult times in her life.

Throughout these three sections are descriptions of her life in California, where she grew up, and where she relocated after living for several years in New York City; and Colorado, where she lived with her father for several years while she was a teenager until she left for college in Ohio. Danler’s portrayal of life in California—the vivid representations of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, the natural life and wilderness—were my favorite sections of the novel because they were so evocative. Her descriptions were reminiscent of Joan Didion, and made me want to travel there and experience it firsthand.

I would have liked to have read more about the author’s life in New York City—her life in college, grad school, and the city were not a central part of the book—and I didn’t care for her choice to name her characters The Monster or Love Interest.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed Sweetbitter; Joan Didion, especially Slouching Towards Bethlehem; and Carmen Maria Machado’s recent memoir In the Dream House.

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I can’t wait for everyone to read this book. Sweetbitter was a wonderful read, if a little too MFA graduate for me, but Stray is a feat. The writing is clear and beautiful and never condescends. She is careful with her subjects and careless with herself, which is to say she’s incredibly honest with us. Definitely recommend!!

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