Stray by Mark Matthews

StrayA Gritty, Realistic, Touching and Emotional Journey (Recommended for more adult readers (17yrs+) due to the subject matter.)

Book Blurb: Therapist Tomas Cleaves is many years sober from his addiction but is now losing his mind. There are voices in his head and the occasional seizure, and then his wife has a miscarriage on the same day his client dies of a heroin overdose. Tom becomes certain that the addicts he treats must have infected the womb of his wife.

Lost and bitter after the miscarriage, Tom is in desperate need of a client who can give him some hope.

James White is one such client — a newly orphaned alcoholic dead bent on drinking again until he gets discharged and finds himself rescuing lost strays at the next door animal shelter. Can James find a reason to live by rescuing the throw-away pets of the city? 

A gritty novel with an edge yet surprisingly gentle and sweet, Stray will take you through the dog fighting dens and crack houses of Detroit where Stray souls can find connections in the most unusual of places.

Review

In between the fantasy, paranormal and romance reads I always enjoy a book that brings me back down to earth. Even though still a fictional story, Stray is a little more realistic, focusing on the unfortunates that are too easily pulled down into drug and alcohol addiction. However, amid the darkness and despair of some, Stray also offers hope and a brighter side with some very sweet, emotional and touching moments.

The story opens up following the Tom’s life, along with some of his clients. Tom constantly beats himself up. He’s trying his best to counsel his clients and guide them to a life of sobriety, yet he can’t control them. At times it seems that there is no hope for some of them. During the tragic times Tom tends to blame himself and links these moments with his wife’s miscarriage, thinking maybe if he hadn’t let his clients down the miscarriage wouldn’t have happened. The affect that this has on Tom’s state of mind is quite concerning. The voices in his head become more frequent and there are times when the reader may question whether Tom himself will remain sober or not.

Clearly there is a significant psychological element to this drama with Tom’s voices and seizures, the effect that the death of his clients have on him and his wife’s miscarriage. As well as the way in which love affects him – love for his wife, unborn child, clients and even those poor strays from the animal shelter opposite the treatment centre. It is these thoughts and feelings that help the reader to relate to the characters.

I was a little confused to begin with as it appeared that some areas of the story were a part of Tom’s memory as he reminisced, and then the reader would be brought back to the present. As the story continues it all becomes clearer and we follow each character’s life which later leads to a dramatic turn of events.

Although quite a serious read there are some heart-warming moments that provide the reader and some of the characters hope for a better future and faith that they can rise up from the rut they are stuck in by staying sober and rebuilding their life with work and relationships. James is a great example of this and my favourite character.

James leaves therapy and could go down either of two paths. He could return home and return to his addiction or he could explore a new life. After hearing the dogs in the animal shelter near to the Treatment Centre, he decides to take a look. In doing so he meets Rachel (Ra) and learns of a job vacancy that surely he’d be suitable for. During James’ time working for the animal shelter the reader has an incite into similarities between the strays and that of an addict. The stray dogs are occasionally re-homed, but many are given an injected drug to end their struggle.

Ra is another of my favourite characters. She is a saviour without realising. She helps rescue the strays of the city, including James. Is there hope for a little romance here? And in many ways, Tom’s character is similar to Ra, in that they both try to save lost souls by re-homing or therapy but sadly very few seem to move on to a better life. Stray is a perfect example of how a life can save another, whether it be through friends, family, children and/or indeed pets and animals.

One of my favourite aspects of Stray is the way in which each character’s story is connected to another. Some connections are more subtle than others but many are connected to Tom, Treatment Centre and/or the animal shelter and pet dogs that some of the characters have or have had.

Stray opens the mind to the ideas that some addicts may have – if things go wrong it must be their fault. It can appear to some that they have high ego’s in thinking that the world evolves around them by always thinking they are at the fore of all problems, and yet in contrast, they don’t deem themselves worthy. It’s a vicious circle, a dark rut that many find impossible to break free from. Stray shows the ups and downs -addiction at it’s worst and those that have beaten it.

Mark Matthews, a therapist himself, has written with delicacy and care. The dark moments are written in such a way that the reader is completely aware of the scene, however Matthews has written so carefully as to not horrify or appal the reader. I congratulate the author on writing in a very sensitive manner. For what is such a serious subject matter, Stray is quite refreshing at times albeit gritty and realistic.

A copy of Stray was provided by the author in return for an honest and fair review.

Stray is available at Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Reviewed by Caroline Barker

About Caroline Barker

I am a happily engaged mother of three and I absolutely love to read and write. Therefore, I am setting up a book blog in the hope to influence some readers out there!

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