Peter Webster, senior emergency medical technician (EMT) in his Vermont community, is a long-time single parent. When he discovers his seventeen-year-old daughter, Rowan, has started to drink, memories of his ex-wife come flooding back. No matter how skilled Peter is at rescuing strangers, he feels unsure about his ability to help those he loves the most.
Anita Shreve's Rescue focuses on steady, safe Peter Webster and his lightening-fast relationship with Sheila Arsenault. Peter's introduction to her occurs early in his EMT career when he is called to the scene of a one-car accident. Sheila, who had been drinking, is lucky to have survived, and Peter cannot stop thinking about her, quickly falling in love. Sheila has a complicated past, but she likes Peter and agrees to marry him when she learns she's pregnant, just a couple months after they've met.
As suddenly as their relationship started, it ends, and Peter moves in with his parents, who help raise Rowan. It isn't until Rowan starts pushing the boundaries that Peter begins to reflect on his marriage and worry about how easily his daughter could follow in the footsteps of a mother she can't remember.
Shreve's talent at creating familiar, believable characters shines in Rescue. Almost all of us have seen a relationship that took off at warp speed. Some of these couples manage to find a comfortable pace at which to cruise through life, but most eventually spin out of control. Peter and Sheila are among the latter. He may not be worldly wise, but he has found his budding maturity; she has big-city street smarts but cannot stand up to her troubles.
Rescue doesn't offer many surprises, but not all examinations of a life need to shock. Peter's story is interesting precisely because it mirrors reality. If you ever found yourself in need of emergency medical help, Peter is the man you'd want to turn to. He was born to do that kind of work. He is careful, precise, calming, and experienced. He knows the protocol. Unfortunately for Peter, there is no checklist for being a husband or father, and your heart goes out to him in his solo, stumbling efforts to deal with his headstrong daughter.
And, in fact, a central theme in the novel is the conflicting needs for independence and assistance. We can require help and we can even be offered help, but the real trick is being ready to accept help. Peter, Sheila, and Rowan must all find a way past this dilemma.
Rescue may not make your top-ten list, but the novel is well worth your time. Book club discussions will likely focus on the EMT scenes, single parenthood, alcoholism, rescue (in all its forms), and the nature of love and relationships.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Hachette Audio; 7 hr, 30 min) read by Dennis Holland. Holland's expressive reading keeps listeners engaged without interfering with their personal reactions. His voice is smooth and easy to listen to. A recommended audio.
Rescue was an Indie Next Pick for December 2010. For more on Anita Shreve, visit her website, where you will also find a reading group guide.
Published by Hachette Group / Little, Brown, 2010
Source: Review (see review policy)
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