Title: Meredith, Alone
Author: Claire Alexander
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: November 1, 2022
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
She has a full-time remote job and her rescue cat Fred. Her best friend Sadie visits with her two children. There’s her online support group, her jigsaw puzzles and favorite recipes, her beloved Emily Dickinson, the internet, the grocery delivery man. Also keeping her company are treacherous memories of an unstable childhood, the estrangement from her sister, and a traumatic event that had sent her reeling.
But something’s about to change. Whether Meredith likes it or not, the world is coming to her door. Does she have the courage to overcome what’s been keeping her inside all this time?
Meredith, Alone surprised me in all sorts of good ways. Based on the cover, I expected a fairly upbeat, quirky story, but it’s so much more than that.
Meredith lives alone with her cat Fred, and hasn’t left her home in over three years. As the book starts, we see Meredith having a panic attack one day while trying to leave for work, but then we jump ahead and learn she hasn’t left her house in the years since then. And really, in this day and age of online everything, she doesn’t actually need to. She orders in whatever she needs, she’s a freelance writer so she can work and support herself from home, and she gets regular visits from her best friend Sadie (who’s also available for veterinary emergencies), so she’s not entirely devoid of human contact.
In fact, at the start of the book, Meredith comes across as unusual, a bit obsessive about routine, but mostly okay with her life. She exercises every day, is an excellent cook, does jigsaw puzzles constantly, reads, and keeps herself busy. She observes her Glasgow neighborhood from her window, and opens her backdoor to look at the trees and birds. She’s content, more or less.
But as the book progresses, we learn more about Meredith’s past and why she’s been estranged from her mother and sister for all these years. Growing up, Meredith and Fiona were inseparable, providing each other with the love and support they were denied by their emotionally manipulative and abusive mother. It’s almost impossible to fathom why Meredith would have shut Fee out of her life, when clearly, she’s always been the most important person in her world.
Meredith’s calm routine is broken up by the intrusion of two new people: Tom, a volunteer with an organization that arranges visits with shut-ins, and Celeste, a young woman who strikes up a friendship with Meredith via their online support group. As Meredith gets to know each of them, she also starts to open up about her past. Between her new friendships and her tentative early work with a therapist, Meredith’s worldview starts to change… including the possibility of finally making it out her front door.
Meredith, Alone includes memories of trauma and abuse, and is terribly sad in so many ways. At the same time, Meredith herself is a caring, intelligent woman who’s just trying to cope. Despite all of her anguish and pain, she still manages to create a life for herself (and Fred), and it’s clearly not ideal, but it’s what she needs during those years to get by.
It’s lovely to see her start to emerge and reconsider her life. Having new friends allows her to explore her experiences and what they’ve cost her, and gives her incentive to try to push past her initial reluctance and skepticism about therapy. I appreciate how honestly Meredith’s experiences with anxiety and panic attacks are portrayed. Nothing is sugar-coated; her trauma and its aftereffects feel real.
Meredith, Alone is touching, often very sad, yet ends in a place of hope and optimism. I really loved Meredith as a character, and felt glad for her to have wonderful people such as Tom, Celeste, and Sadie in her life.
I wish I’d made note of how I first came across this book — I know I saw a very positive review on another blog, but I can’t remember which one! In any case, I’m so glad I came across that review, because otherwise I might have missed out on this lovely book.