cover image Stray: A Memoir

Stray: A Memoir

Stephanie Danler. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-101-87596-4

Novelist Danler (Sweetbitter) returns to her hometown of Los Angeles and comes to a reckoning in this forceful, eviscerating memoir. Her three-part narrative—Mother, Father, Monster—creates a domino effect of abandonment and humiliation as those she loves topple her. “People often act against common sense when they’ve fallen in love with a fantasy,” she writes, describing both the tumbledown Laurel Canyon cottage she rents with the advance on her first novel and her disillusionment with her parents and the married lover she calls the Monster. Danler, writing in precise, elegant prose, outlines her family’s disintegration: her father left his wife, Danler, and her sister as young girls; her mother worked and raised the children as she slid into alcoholism and began to physically abuse her daughters. Sent to live with her disinterested father in Colorado, Danler quickly realized “he couldn’t love anyone” yet “was charmed by his cruelty.” Self-destructive relationships followed, including the unavailable Monster, “a colonizer... who declares ownership without concrete investment in the country.” As the publication date of her debut novel drew near, a friend’s comment—“You fought so hard for this life and now you won’t let yourself have it”—propelled her to sever connections with all three and instead establish “tiny building blocks of trust” in loving, enduring relationships. The result is a penetrating and unforgettable tale of family dysfunction. (May)