"Meredith, Alone" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
In the contemporary novel “Meredith, Alone,” by Claire Alexander, the main character suffers mightily from anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia for reasons readers don’t learn about until they’re well into the book.
Meredith Maggs, from Glasgow, tells her story, introducing herself on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, revealing she hasn’t left her home for 1,214 days. Over the next year, we learn what led to Meredith’s self-imposed isolation, developing tremendous empathy for this young woman we find ourselves pulling for.
Some people do visit Meredith at home, like Sadie, her best chum from childhood. Sadie's a nurse, single mom, and along with her kids, James and Matilda, brings laughs and news of the outside world. There’s also Tom, whom she got to know from Holding Hands, an agency Sadie encouraged her to contact. The group’s mission is to provide friendship for shut-ins. Though Meredith is initially hesitant to allow Tom into her home, they soon bond over jigsaw puzzles, books and afternoon tea. He’s the only man Meredith has had contact with since her romance with Gavin hit the skids.
At Sadie’s suggestion Meredith also pursues contacts online. There she meets Celeste, who loves cats as much as Meredith, a wounded woman Meredith later learns she has more in common with than she could have imagined.
Meredith does have a sister who lives nearby, but the two are estranged. We learn about Fiona in flashbacks and the close relationship the sisters shared growing up—daughters of an untrustworthy mother. Neither of them knew what mother they’d have on any given day, yet Meredith was the one most bullied by her dysfunctional parent, who never divulged what had happened to the girls’ father. The secret is revealed as this timely novel unfurls to a painful, yet hopeful conclusion.
An added plus with “Meredith, Alone,” are the important tools Meredith’s therapist uses to help Meredith with her anxiety, including exposure therapy and deep breathing exercises. This heartwarming book is entertaining and timely, given the rising incidence of anxiety in people of all ages.