... fearless, insightful, devastating, and beautiful. It broke my heart, and it twisted up my insides. The stories are still sitting in my gut ... With insight and wit and startling honesty, [Danler] digs into the relationships that shaped and reshaped, again and again, her perspectives on family, love, and home ... Parts of Stray feel very much like a prayer ... Danler writes (beautifully, achingly) about the family she comes from and the one she's created for herself ... a book that goes there, and it sits with you. Certain scenes are unsettling ... By the time I turned those final pages, though, I somehow felt more centered. That's a testament to Danler's storytelling and to the crystal-clear lens she's turned back on to herself and her experiences.
In her carefully concocted but unfermented new memoir...the ensuing portrait Danler composes of herself resembles a Cubist Picasso, broken into bits and incongruously reassembled ... a literary It Girl...[Danler's] success story barely figures into Stray, despite the fact that the book is primarily occupied with her mind-set in those post-book-deal years. Danler never explicitly refutes the charmed image; she simply dips us in and out of enough familial screaming matches and self-destructive decisions that any previous assumptions about her blessedness melt away ... 'I’m a ruthless performer of likability,' she writes at one point. 'I come from a long line of charismatic liars,' she cheerfully admits at another. But she doesn’t go far beyond mere acknowledgment. Where, I kept wondering, is the moment that takes this story from recollection to something she has disassembled and futzed with and zealously turned over in her mind, until it has eventually taken on a brand-new shape? 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. But disclosure is not revelation. She needn’t stitch herself back up...but it’s best to make sure that the blood lost will be worth it.
... can feel both piecemeal and blinkered by its own privilege (private schools, last-minute trips to Spain), but it’s powerful, too: a raw, often lyrical portrait of pain, loss, and learning to let go.