Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rescue: A Puzzle

I love Anita Shreve. She writes the way I want to write: with simple language but poignant description, themes of family and relationships, and a tug-at-your-heartstrings quality. This most recent of her books had all of these things, and yet I found something lacking.

The story follows Peter Webster, known only as Webster, from his days as a young paramedic to his life twenty years later. Fresh off his training, one dark night, Webster rescues a young woman from a car wreck. The woman has been drinking, and is unconscious. Something about her intrigues Webster, so he visits her in the hospital when she wakes, and after she's released, tracks her to her temporary home. Sheila had been driving from Boston to New York to escape an abusive cop boyfriend, stopping at bars along the way, and wrecked her car in the small town of Rescue in rural Vermont. Sheila is not like anyone Webster has ever met. She is tough, sassy, dangerous. In a short space of time, he falls for her completely. The two are just beginning their love affair when they discover Sheila is pregnant. They get married, move into a cheap apartment, and a few months later, their daughter Rowan is born. All is well for awhile. Sheila loves her daughter, loves Webster, and seems happy. But after awhile, she starts drinking again. Webster finds bottles hidden all over the apartment. He forces her to go to AA, but it doesn't take. One night, Webster gets a rescue call for what turns out to be Sheila smashing her car again, drunk driving with Rowan in the backseat. Fortunately, neither mother nor daughter is fatally wounded, but it's the last straw for Webster, and he forces Sheila to leave town before she is arrested. He takes charge of his daughter's upbringing alone, never expecting or hoping to see his wife again. 

Years later, Webster still lives with his daughter in Rescue in his parents' old house, watching her navigate the end of her senior year of high school. Rowan has always been a great kid- a strong student with good friends, a talented softball player, a loving relationship with her father, and until they passed away, her grandparents. But recently Rowan has become troubled, fatalistic. She begins drinking at parties, taking huge risks, letting her grades drop to the point of losing her acceptance to college. Webster doesn't know what to do. He wasn't able to keep Sheila from drinking all those years ago, and he's desperate not to let Rowan go the same way. He reaches out to the only person he thinks might be able to help: Sheila herself.

Obviously, it's an interesting story, and it's handled with the typical Shreve sensibility about relationships and ability to show complex emotion with a sensitive touch. The characters are well-formed and evoke both compassion and exasperation in the reader. The descriptions are pitch-perfect: enough to picture the scene clearly, but not so much as to leave nothing to the imagination. In short, it's an excellently-wrtiten novel, and yet something bothered me about it. I'm still not sure what that is. It bothers me that it bothers me, if you know what I mean. After thinking about a book for a few days, I can usually come up with a definite opinion and back it up with examples. That's why I have this blog in the first place, to share those insights. But this book has left me feeling dissatisfied without apparent reason. I'll keep thinking about it and if I figure out the source of my discomfort, I'll let you know. 

If anyone else read or will read this book, please comment below and let me know what you thought. Maybe I just need a good discussion to help me see what's going on with this one. Or maybe it's time to start a book club!

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