Rescue: A Novel by Anita Shreve (Back Bay Books; $14.99; 320 pages)
“He wants to go to her. He’s used to caring for a person who’s sobbing. It happens to him at least once a week. But he can’t go to this particular person.”
When Anita Shreve writes, everything is set forth in perfect human scale – neither too large nor too small. This is why she can take a tale, that in the words of another writer might seem pedestrian and predictable, and turn it into something cinematic. While reading the novel Rescue, I often felt as if I were watching a movie on a DVD.
At first it seems like there will be few surprises in this family novel. A young paramedic, Peter Webster, comes across a car accident in which a drunken young woman has nearly killed herself. The woman, Sheila, is clearly troubled and promises to darken the life of anyone who comes close to her. Peter falls in love with her even before she’s removed from the wreckage. In a matter of weeks, they’re shacking up before getting married and having a child – a little girl named Rowan.
As we expect from the very beginning of this story, Peter has let an accident come in the front door and his life is nearly turned into wreckage by Sheila. When Sheila has a second DUI accident, and seriously injures a man, Peter knows he needs to protect himself and his daughter. He banishes Sheila from their lives.
Fast forward 18 years and Rowan suddenly appears to be the second coming of her mother, drinking too much and endangering herself. And then the completely unexpected happens… the ever-responsible Peter elects to do something that seems almost mad. He invites Sheila back into their lives. And this is where Shreve the writer hooks the reader, putting you in a position where you cannot put the novel down.
Peter let Sheila nearly ruin his life once, and now he’s giving her a second chance? It’s a disorienting twist on what seemed to be a plot that was traveling down a straight road – now it’s gone sideways. But this is Anita Shreve and in her cinematic style, this is where the cameras begin to zoom-in, to focus on the major players as events escalate.
“Sheila turns her head. ‘Go slowly and be careful,’ she says.”
No spoiler alert here, but Shreve will surprise you in the way life itself constantly surprises us. One never knows exactly what’s coming next; the fact that the telling of this tale reflects this is a reason Shreve is one of our best story tellers. This story is taut, engaging, realistic and fulfilling. At its conclusion it teaches us that life’s next lesson is not in the here and now, it’s up ahead, just down the road apiece. You’ll know it when you get there.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.