Sunday, October 1, 2023

Review: Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander

What do we need to have full lives? Do we need other people? Can we find contentment in isolation? Meredith Maggs, the main character in Claire Alexander's debut novel, Meredith, Alone, isn't too sure of the answers to these questions as she tries to figure out how to live her life, to expand it, and to take care of herself at the same time.

Meredith hasn't left her house in over three years. This is not a COVID story. It talkes place in 2018-2019. Meredith used to leave her house but now she cannot bring herself to go outside. She lives alone with only her rescue cat Fred for company. The only people she sees in person are her best friend and her friend's children when they come to visit her every week and the grocery delivery boy. All of her other interactions are online: her therapist and a chat support group. Even her work is remote, allowing her to cocoon herself away and not confront the trauma that keeps her prisoner in her home. But she wants to try to take baby steps back into the world, to make connections, as evidenced by Meredith allowing Tom, a volunteer with Helping Hands, to come into her house, work on her jigsaw puzzles with her, and get her to open up the tiniest bit. It is also evidenced by her growing online friendship with Celeste, a woman she meets through her chat support group and to whom she herself is a great support. Meredith alone can find the courage to brave the outside world but Meredith is not alone in any sense of the word as she faces her past and her fears.

Chapters are headed with a tally of the number of days Meredith has stayed in her home in the present or with a year from the past. The present moves linearly but flashes from varying times in the past are inserted in between the present chapters, slowly revealing what has made Meredith panic at the thought of the outside world. The pacing of the whole book is deliberately slow, mirroring Meredith's stuttering progress, panicked setbacks, and determined resets. Meredith as a character is endearing and the more the reader learns about her, the more her kind heart shines through. Alexander does not minimize mental health issues here, nor does she make them disappear unrealistically. Instead she has created a heartwarming, hopeful story about the people who have your back no matter what, who push you just enough to be helpful and supportive. As Meredith faces her demons, readers will cheer for her healing.

Content warnings for sexual assault and child abuse.

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