From the bestselling author of Sweetbitter, a memoir of growing up in a family shattered by lies and addiction, and of one woman's attempts to find a life beyond the limits of her past. Stray is a moving, sometimes devastating, brilliantly written and ultimately inspiring exploration of the landscapes of damage and survival.
After selling her first novel--a dream she'd worked long and hard for--Stephanie Danler knew she should be happy. Instead, she found herself driven to face the difficult past she'd left behind a decade ago: a mother disabled by years of alcoholism, further handicapped by a tragic brain aneurysm; a father who abandoned the family when she was three, now a meth addict in and out of recovery. After years in New York City she's pulled home to Southern California by forces she doesn't totally understand, haunted by questions of legacy and trauma. Here, she works toward answers, uncovering hard truths about her parents and herself as she explores whether it's possible to change the course of her history.
Lucid and honest, heart-breaking and full of hope, Stray is an examination of what we inherit and what we don't have to, of what we have to face in ourselves to move forward, and what it's like to let go of one's parents in order to find peace--and a family--of one's own.
About the Author
STEPHANIE DANLER is a writer based in Los Angeles, California.
"[Stray is] fearless, insightful, devastating, and beautiful. It broke my heart, and it twisted up my insides. The stories are still sitting in my gut . . . Danler writes (beautifully, achingly) about the family she comes from and the one she's created for herself."
—Laura Marie Meyers, POPSUGAR
"Danler explores the ugly areas of her past, sorting through troublesome memories to make room for positive change . . . [Stray] is written in gripping and refreshingly plain terms . . . [Danler]
asks what it means to lose someone who is still very much alive, and how to rebuild broken bonds."
—Annabel Gutterman, TIME
"Stray invites us to look closely at our own life: our family dynamics, our loss, our trauma, and the moments of happiness that still exist within that fragile frame . . . Stunning prose . . . Danler tells her story candidly . . . The honesty she brings to her reader allows us to think about our own story, the parts that make up a whole without trying to fit our identity into a preordained box."
—Frances Yackel, Electric Lit
"[Danler’s] fiction is as composed and bountiful as one of Jan Davidsz de Heem’s still life . . . Memoir — I say this with reverence — is a selfish act. It asserts the priority of one version of events over all others, that of the individual lucky enough to wield the pen. Danler knows this and openly owns the fact that she can only tell this story with the particular varieties of truth that she can muster . . . It’s such a thrill to watch a writer open up her greediest thoughts, to slice open little pockets of her skin and root around underneath her flesh." —Hillary Kelly, New York Times Book Review
"Novelist Danler (Sweetbitter) returns to her hometown of Los Angeles and comes to a reckoning in this forceful, eviscerating memoir . . . Danler, writing in precise, elegant prose, outlines her family’s disintegration . . . The result is a penetrating and unforgettable tale of family dysfunction." —Publishers Weekly (Starred)
"Like most compelling memoirs, the trauma and pure un-fair-ness of her life story will hit readers instantaneously." —Seija Rankin, Entertainment Weekly
"A raw, often lyrical portrait of pain, loss, and learning to let go."
—Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"In Stray, Danler remembers and relives what it was like growing up the child of addicts and returning home to California after almost a decade away to confront her family’s past. She evaluates how it has weighed on her own life, from the decisions she’s made to the men she’s loved."
—Rachel King, Fortune ("5 new books to read in May")
"Stray pokes so closely at the wounds of addiction, heartbreak, and parental failures that it may come as a shock." —Kathryn Lindsay, Refinery29
"A new book that offers more insight into [Danler's] life . . . Danler writes about returning to Southern California and working to discover truths about her parents and herself."
—Lexy Perez, Hollywood Reporter ("Summer Books")
"With painful honesty, [Danler] looks back at the past and lets go of grief in hopes of moving forward." —Elizabeth Entenman, Hello Giggles ("The 10 best new books to read in May that your virtual book club will love")
"Stephanie Danler knows about the long-term damage of substance abuse in the family, how the trauma can manifest itself decades later, and how recovery is never out of the cards . . . Danler’s is a reflective redemption story told from experience."
—Mozes Zarate, The San Francisco Chronicle
"A great memoir is brazen, unflinchingly honest, and raw; the writer lays herself bare and exquisitely exposed so readers can compare scars. That is what Stephanie Danler has done. Stray is filled with uniquely southern California verisimilitude: light, canyons, flora, fauna, human failings, and the tacit understanding that danger lurks in nature as well as nurture. I knew and know the ghosts that Ms. Danler writes about. Stray dragged me through the mud and mire of my memories as well as hers, and then washed us both clean to emerge anew. This is a brave and beautiful book that fortifies our own survival skills." —Jamie Lee Curtis
"Danler reckons with past trauma as she works to understand the past and look toward the future."
— Juliana Rose Pignataro, Newsweek ("The 20 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction Books of the Summer")
“[A] fierce, unsparing memoir . . . In Danler’s evocation of California’s complicated history and the darkness that lurks under its sunny exterior, Stray brings to mind the work of Joan Didion, and her frank portrayal of the nightmare of addiction is akin to Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering. But in its painful candor and hard-earned wisdom, Stray is every bit its own vivid creation.”
—Harvey Freedenberg, BookPage
“Against a backdrop of geographic beauty—the cliffs of California’s Palos Verdes Estates with her mother, the glacier lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park with her father, a pilgrimage on foot across Spain in the aftermath of her divorce—Danler captures both the tragedy of inherited trauma, and the remarkably human ability to amount to something far greater than the sum of our own wrongdoings and the misfortunes we’ve suffered.”
—Jenna Adrian-Diaz, Vogue
"Acknowledging both the tribute of memory and the mercy of forgetting with one distinctive voice, this is a rare and skillfully structured view of an artist's love, grief, and growth."
—Annie Bostrom, Booklist
“I read Stray on the edge of my seat. This is a story of triumph: the triumph of grit, talent, grace, and beauty over the dark pull of inner demons. I’ll be thinking about the courage it took to write this book for a long time to come.”
—Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance
“In Stray, Stephanie Danler has created a compulsive, neck-breaking masterpiece. It is pleasurable and full-throatedly sensual beyond words. The abounding pain is unsentimentally rendered but mind-blowingly felt. It's a dark and hot book, a violently provocative one. But it is also quiet, tender. Ultimately this is a kind writer and on every page there is hope.”
—Lisa Taddeo, author of Three Women
“Danler's first memoir is as well-written as her novel was . . . [A] moving text in which writing is therapeutic and family trauma is useful material.”