The Stray American

Wendy Brandmark

Larry Greenberg’s search for a soulmate & his identity

Sample Passages

  • Chapter 1

    He was out on the street again at two in the morning, adrift in Camden Town. A carless American.
    She said just up the road, turn left, turn and turn again and you come to the tube station where the taxis rove. But the streets twisted left into right till he forgot where he came in.
    She’d fallen back on to the bed after her moment of grandeur and when she opened her eyes, he saw that she, like all the others, had been taken over. After all her cries and saliva on the pillow, after the scratches and bites, she propped up her head on a feather pillow and asked if he wanted a cup of tea or something before he went, because she had a hard day coming up and couldn’t sleep well with a strange man in her bed.
    For the first time he missed Talia, their one-bedroom apartment in Boston whose very walls seem to vibrate from her shouting. After years of sitting in semi-circles bad-mouthing men, Talia had wanted marriage.
    ‘Don’t sit on the pot if you’re not gonna shit.’
    ‘Well, I don’t know,’ he had said.
    ‘When are you going to know? In this life?’
    ‘You see, how can I tell how I’ll feel twenty years from now? How can you tell?  I mean to make such a commitment when you don’t know is irresponsible.’
    His mildness brought out her fury. ‘You’re just a wimp. You’re a prevaricator.’
    ‘Don’t holler. Couldn’t we just talk about this like grown-ups?’
    ‘You just want your cake. You’re like any man. You’re not special.’
    But she told him how like a bird he was, so light and quick on top of her. She, a big-boned woman with heavy brown hair, felt she was crushing him when she rode to her fierce end.
    ‘I just want to be a fairy,’ he once said. A little boy with gossamer wings drinking dew from the moving buttercups. I didn’t ask to be a man. And yet he chose the large handsome women who shouted and stamped their feet when they could not bend him. Not that he was stubborn. He did not even fight back.
    ‘You’re not there for me,’ Talia was fond of saying.
    ‘You mean I’m just a figment of someone else’s imagination? Talia, this has serious implications.’
    ‘You know what I mean. Stop this lawyer bullshit.’
    ‘You got the gift,’ his father always said. How could she resist him, his black curls and sly smile, his firm thighs? She called him her Jewish princeling.
    When he told her he was going to London she said, ‘Now you’re running away.’
    ‘Who from?’ he asked with what he hoped was gay abandon. She was wrong to think he was running from her.
    ‘From your father. Who else?’
    In the early evenings his father had come through the door clicking his fingers. ‘Can’t you hear him?’ he wanted to ask his mother, but she seemed not to care about her dead husband. Even while he argued with Talia he heard him moving through the rooms, shaking his head at their words. One day when he was all alone eating tuna fish still in its can shape he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. ‘Go from here,’ he said.

    Where was he anyway? Larry turned, walked back the way he had come, then turned again. If the streets were in argument with him, obfuscating then growing silent, there was no point in going back.
    He walked, head lowered, half-talking to himself, letting the streets pull him along, and now he was descending past a playground into a warren of little paths, the dark buildings ringed with walkways rising around him. A great rush of air and an empty supermarket cart flew at him like a skeleton. A door slammed somewhere. If he followed one of these paths he would never be seen again.
    He saw a figure in the distance, and began to walk towards him. He was a heavy-looking guy who moved slowly like he was in no hurry to help Larry. Then he seemed to recede. Larry walked faster, willing himself not to run. ‘Tell me the way,’ he whispered, ‘just the way back.’ The guy stopped or maybe he had never moved. Then he saw the man’s face in the lamplight, the chubby smile, the curly hair red like it had been when Larry was a kid. He felt as if someone had doused him with electricity. He opened his mouth to cry, ‘Dad. Dad, I’m over here.’ But the guy turned down some path and all that was left of him were footsteps.

    If you enjoyed the first chapter of The Stray American you can continue reading by buying the print or ebook from the top of this page.

Sample Information


He was out on the street again at two in the morning, adrift in Camden Town. A carless American.
She said just up the road, turn left, turn and turn again and you come to the tube station where the taxis rove. But the streets twisted left into right till he forgot where he came in.

This opening sets the scene for this novel which beautifully captures the sense of rootlessness and search for identity. We follow Larry Greenberg, a flawed but engaging character, on his journey in search of a soulmate and a sense of purpose. The witty descriptions and dialogue are very appealing, yet there is also an enticing cynical touch, as well as a hint of tragedy.

Set in 2003, Larry Greenberg escapes from his corporate law job in Boston to teach in a seedy American college near London’s Waterloo Station. His classes are composed of feckless young Americans on their year abroad and students from developing countries aiming to gain entrance into the United States.

Larry lives alone in Wimbledon, and his British lovers want him out before the morning. Then he meets Carla who lets him stay the night, but who has to face her own anorexic daemons and who is into bondage. His search for companionship takes him to the Un-Americans, a tiny group of disaffected expatriate Americans who have joined together to demonstrate against their government’s invasion of Iraq and to eat potluck Thanksgiving dinner. Though repelled by these eccentrics, he stays for Devorah, a dancer whose radical politics he tries to ignore.

Meanwhile one of his American students disappears, while another student, an Egyptian desperate for a visa to the US, plans a marriage of convenience. Larry is reunited with Carla at an exhibition of her drawings. He discovers he is featured and doesn’t know what’s more revealing: being in the nude or sprouting a wing.

Larry, the unassuming hero, continues to have moments of unease even when being cosseted within the warm traditional English lifestyle of Carla’s mother. His own mother believes he has come to London to find himself, but has he lost his bearings? He has always been rootless, unwilling to commit himself to a job or woman or cause. If he grows up, must he shed his wings?  Larry is not one of those who cannot return home, but is he condemned to forever consider himself to be an outsider?

Enjoy ‘On Letting go of a Novel’ Wendy’s blog about writing The Stray American or read an interview with her on WordMothers.

The Stray American was launched on Saturday 13 December at the October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 3AL

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If you want to order in any other way, please email the publisher.

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The Stray American is distributed in the USA by SPD.

Wendy Brandmark’s short story collection He Runs the Moon is also published by Holland Park Press.

ISBN: 9781907320460
Number of pages: 240
Price: £0


‘In Wendy Brandmark’s extremely funny and accomplished latest novel, this fine writer amply demonstrates her uncommonly acute powers of observation.’ – Siân Miles on Bookoxygen

‘Brandmark’s prose and taut plotting draw the reader in’
‘He’s [Larry] a masterful creation and the supporting cast that we glimpse through the crack in Larry’s myopic vision –Edie, the octogenarian romance author, Gershom, the abandoned husband –are complex and fascinating’
‘The Stray American is both social satire and a subtle parody of coming-of-age stories.’ – Kaite Welsh in the Literary Review

‘In giving us an anti-hero for our time in the shape of an American in Wimbledon looking for love, Brandmark reveals the absurdities of relationships with wit and without cynicism. This book delights in language and foibles.’ – British Fiction Uncovered

‘The novel is at heart a character study of its drifting and self-centred ‘fish-out-of-water’ protagonist.’

‘It’s an interesting attempt by a woman to understand a man of a particular kind.’

‘Worth reading for the prose alone, which is very accomplished.’ – David Gardiner in Gold Dust Magazine

‘Through Larry, a man who could pack up his office in ten minutes and fly, Wendy Brandmark explores themes of rootless and identity. He makes The Stray American an engaging, inviting read.’ – Emma Lee on her blog

‘Brandmark is excellent at creating little details that give characters extra dimensions.’ – Eve on Eve Proofreads

‘I would describe this book as more of an artistic piece of literature, showing the skills of the writer, it has an entertainment value for those who read dark emotional real life issues.’ – Rosie Amber on her blog

‘Sharp, funny, observant look at Britain through the eyes of an American adrift in London. An excellent read.’ – P on goodreads

‘This book is gorgeously written … all these events are firmly implanted in my mind. I can practically smell them. … There were some stand out lines that I wanted to write down and say yes, that is the perfect line.’ – Bridget on