Sifting through the Pain

Meredith, Alone

By Claire Alexander

In the book, Meredith makes Tom some delicious sounding baked goods. One sweet treat that left me salivating was a white cake with buttercream and jam layers. While I don’t know the recipe that Meredith used, I think this recipe for Strawberry Mascarpone Layer Cake by Beyond Frosting might be a good substitute.

I finished this book a couple days ago, but I needed a few days to let it marinate in my mind. I’ve been trying to figure out the words to describe it. Happy? Sad? Victorious? Broken? Quiet and Unassuming? A bold statement about the impact of trauma?

The truth is, I feel all of those things. If I had to compare Meredith, Alone to another book, I’d say it was deeper version of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It was less quirky with more of an emphasis on trauma, but I found myself rooting for Meredith just as much. For those readers who request trigger warnings, there is mention of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse in this book as well as self-harm.

Meredith Maggs is a forty-year-old woman who has not left her apartment in over three years. She is quite content with her life, spending her days doing jigsaw puzzles, exercising by running up and down her staircase, reading, petting her cat, Fred, and baking. Meredith is an extraordinary baker, but we’ll get to that later. Even though she will not leave her apartment, she does have people that visit her. Her best friend, Sadie, regularly visits with her children (and also runs errands for Meredith as needed). Then there’s Tom, who works for the Helping Hands Agency. He is tasked to visit Meredith once a week and check in with her to make sure she is doing okay. Meredith merely tolerates his presence at first, but their friendship blossoms throughout the book. Finally, there is Celeste, a new friend that Meredith meets on a therapy message board. Celeste comes to see Meredith at her apartment a few times, but she has no idea that Meredith is reclusive. Meredith isn’t honest with Celeste about her living situation, and she finds ways to avoid telling Celeste about her problems. Celeste, who is a rape survivor, credits Meredith with helping her through her recovery.

At Sadie’s request, Meredith begins to see an online therapist. The therapist wants to start Meredith in cognitive behavioral therapy. While Meredith is resistant at first, she finally agrees when Celeste invites her to her upcoming birthday party. Meredith desperately wants to be there for her friend, but she’s not sure if she can make enough progress in time. Between these therapy sessions and Meredith’s conversations with Tom, we also find out that Meredith has a sister named Fiona. Both girls were verbally abused by their mother. Meredith and Fiona were very close when they were children, but they had a falling out. I can’t go more into their story without dropping some spoilers, but their relationship is an exploration of love and forgiveness.

Meredith, Alone not only discusses the impacts of trauma, but it also shows how different people process it. Meredith does not leave her apartment. Fiona enters into an unhealthy relationship. Celeste seeks help from a supportive community. While the characters are facing similar circumstances, society only views Meredith’s behavior as maladaptive. However, one could argue that Meredith was actively doing more to heal from her trauma than the other two characters.

Trauma is a journey, and the path to rise above it is not easy. With that being said, Meredith, Alone felt like sitting in a therapist’s office. Part of the problem might be that I cannot relate to what the characters are going through, although I can understand. While I enjoyed the book, I’m not sure if it’s how I want to spend my reading time. I am not the intended audience of this book.

For readers who have survived trauma, I could see this book being both inspiring and triggering. While the abuse scenes are not overly graphic, every step of Meredith’s recovery process is detailed. Some readers will celebrate this as a way to remove the stigma behind trauma recovery. Others, however, might feel uncomfortable (or further traumatized) because of their own background and life experiences. If you are in the second category, I highly recommend being honest with yourself about where you are in the recovery process. Is it healing for you to hear stories similar to yours, or will that cause you further harm? Only you can make that call.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

My Rating System Explained

5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:  This was an amazing book, and I can't stop thinking about it.   It impacted me emotionally or changed my perspective.  My thoughts keep flickering back to it at random times throughout the day.  I will absolutely recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs.

4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:  This was a really good book.  Parts of it stuck with me, and I might mention it in a conversation.  There is a high likelihood that I will recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs.

3 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️:  I liked this book.  It allowed me to escape from reality for a while.  While I might tell somebody about it if I think it will interest them, I will probably not suggest it to one of my book clubs.

2 Stars ⭐️⭐️:  There's something about this book that I didn't like.  I wasn't willing to go all the way down to a one-star rating, but I'm definitely not digging it.  I may recognize that this book is not for me, but it might be for other people.  I will not recommend it to my friends or one of my book clubs.

1 Star ⭐️:  My rarest rating.  I really didn't like this book.  Something in the story line upset me, and I probably "hate-read" the majority of the book.  Not only will I not recommend it, but I will actively tell people that I did not like it.

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