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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Meredith, Alone”

There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Meredith Maggs, the title character in Claire Alexanderís novel ìMeredith, Aloneî insists she is not lonely despite a dramatic opening statement: ìI havenít left my home for 1,214 days.î That sentence resonates deeply against the backdrop of our global pandemic. Some readers will gasp in dismay at the thought of being housebound for more than three years. Others will sigh with wistful envy, because dealing with people just is not their favorite activity.Meredith is a writer who shares a cozy home in Glasgow, Scotland, with her rescue cat, Fred. A longtime friend and the grocery delivery man make regular visits. She stays connected to her remote job, her therapist and an online support group via smartphone and computer. All of that is her proof that she is not a lonely person. Her solitude is not a result of the pandemic since her story opens well before a virus upended the world. Is Meredith agoraphobic? Nope. Does she have social anxiety disorder? Also no (according to her). Is she physically disabled? No. In fact, she keeps fit by running up and down the staircase in her house and engaging in online workout routines.Through a combination of present day narrative intertwined with recollections of past events, Meredith doles out pieces of her story to explain her life thus far, much like assembling the pieces of her beloved jigsaw puzzles. It starts with her mother, who lacks decent parenting skills and freely indulges in booze and cigarettes. Her father is not in the picture, and Meredith says, ìMy mother used to tell me he left because of me Ö because I wasnít enough to make him stay.î Her sibling, Fiona, alternates between protective big sister and frenemy during childhood and adolescence.Sarcastic comments and poor behavior by both mother and sister throughout Meredithís life mimic the old adage of ìdeath by a thousand cuts,î leaving indelible marks on her soul. When the dysfunctional pair downplay a serious incident that was particularly traumatic for Meredith, she decides to break off contact with them altogether.That is also around the time she begins her self-imposed isolation.Meredith is not a quitter, though. She is a survivor determined to get back out into the world one step at a time, inner demons be damned. She cautiously begins a friendship with a charity volunteer sent to provide companionship to shut-ins (even though she does not consider herself in that category). She makes another new friend in her online support group. And she starts to confront head-on the dark secrets that have kept her from enjoying life beyond her front door.On its surface, ìMeredith, Aloneî seems to be a story about a woman who simply does not want to deal with the world outside of her four walls. But it is much more than that. Meredithís story is one of resilience, courage, overcoming fear, the importance of friends and moving forward after a traumatic life event. Claire Alexander has crafted a compelling novel that evokes emotions across the spectrum. She brings the characters, settings, and story to life with skillful, witty writing that makes it easy to forget this is a work of fiction and not Meredithís own work. Meredith is very likeable and charming, and her story will keep readers hooked from start to finish.Note: ìMeredith, Aloneî contains some references to sexual trauma which may be upsetting to some readers.

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