For so long I’ve been fighting my way toward what I imagine is light, but I’m beginning to wonder what’s on the other side.
I have been a fan of Stephanie Danler since I read her first novel, Sweetbitter, back in college. Her writing is electric. I was drawn to her style of storytelling that put you right there with the characters. You almost believe you are the protagonist. While I lived in Washington, D.C. I had the opportunity to see Danler at Politics and Prose, where she talked about Sweetbitter and read passages from the book. She spoke with such elegance and I loved hearing her read the lines as she imagined them to be read.
When I heard Danler was writing a memoir, I was sold. I wanted to know more about her and clearly she had something to tell.
Like most people alive, I’m interested in presence. In escaping the feeling of time, an infinite substance loaded to us in shockingly finite amounts. Time, to me, is synonymous with death. Presence cures time.
Stray is a dark retelling of life. She delves into her past to explore her extremely tangled relationships with her mother, father, and ex: The Monster. Do not mistake this as a happy tale. Danler does something difficult. She examines every aspect of her relationships, the pleasant and the horrific. You see the hardships of parents being addicts, a toxic affair, and just a general sense of floating around in nothingness.
Epiphanies aren’t lightning bolts. They are a hummed note, a prayer mumbled constantly, brought to the surface given the right conditions. It’s as if I am always hearing three ways, first shallowly, collecting, then one level deeper as I’m processing, and finally, I am hearing with my body, which is when I’m hearing myself. That’s one way, for me, information combines with experience and becomes knowledge. I wish there were a shortcut.
I absolutely loved the details Danler including of California, her native state. She perfectly captures the complex emotions of returning home after being away for some time. The narrative of California is reminiscent of Joan Didion’s descriptive writing.
Everything Danler has experienced in her life has given her almost a stunt in properly expressing or even feeling certain emotions. At one point she says that she experiences what she would assume to be happiness, or close to it. Little by little she learns to find the light in the cracks of her dismal upbringing. I was left amazed by the resilience she showed. Her strength is something truly remarkable.
I think I’m learning how to be careful with things. By careful I don’t mean caution. I mean it literally, taken as its suffix and root. I am learning how to be full of care.