The Stray American by Wendy Brandmark

the strayMany thanks go to Holland Park Press for sending me a review copy.

Larry is alone and lonely, working in London, far from his native Boston. He works at an American College, putting through jocks whose parents pay the bills and foreign students, desperate for a permanent path out of their homelands. Although he is a flawed character, he wants to be a good lecturer; he holds office hours every week, even though no one comes. Brandmark is excellent at creating little details that give characters extra dimensions.

He eventually meets Carla, who is tiny and artistic, and lives in a blank, white apartment with no blinds. The novel stays in shades of white and grey, resting in bleakness, until Larry and Carla visit her mother at the seaside. I enjoyed Larry’s enjoyment of its Englishness: how quaint and amusing he found ordinary things like tea and cake in the afternoon. It took me a while to hear Larry’s voice, but once I did, I empathised with him.

The Un-Americans are another colourful aspect of the novel; they’re a group of ex-pat Americans variously crashing protests to make friends and holding thrown-together Thanksgivings. The novel explores the timeless themes of identity and belonging, expressing how hard it is to find love, and friendship, in a new place.

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