An unusually powerful coming-of-age memoir.
Hall spent her childhood in a remote corner of New Hampshire. She got pregnant during her 16th summer, after sex with a college student she barely knew. It was 1965, and traditional values reigned in small-town New England. Busybodies at the Halls’ church somehow overlooked the fact that her parents were divorced, but they wouldn’t ignore Meredith’s indiscretion. The moment her pregnancy became public, she was kicked out of school. Her mother, deeply ashamed, sent her to live with her father in another town. Dad and stepmom grudgingly took her in, but forbade her to leave the house, or even to come downstairs when they had guests. Hall had a baby boy, gave him up for adoption and enrolled at a far-away boarding school. She slogged through senior year feeling hopelessly alienated from her mirthful classmates. Nonetheless, she dutifully went next to Bennington, only to drop out after a term. Then she began to drift. She moved to Boston, worked odd jobs, bounced from apartment to apartment. She allowed a fight with her stepmother to destroy her relationship with her father. Decades later, living in Maine, Hall began to pull her life together. She matriculated at Bowdoin College, the only “nontraditional student” the school had ever admitted; the short chapter detailing her dogged campaign to gain admission and her first day of classes is one of the most understatedly moving sections here. In 1987, her grown son tracked her down, enabling her to make peace with him and with herself. “I have caused harm, failed in the expectations and obligations of love,” she concludes in characteristically assured prose. “I have loved well. What I do each day is carried within me until I die.”
Searching, humble and quietly triumphant: Hall has managed to avoid all the easy clichés.