Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rescue Tells a Tale of Love Gone Wrong

Anita Shreve has been a favorite author of mine for many years. While I have heard her called a "chick lit" author, I truly believe she is much more than that. Her novel The Pilot's Wife was an Oprah's Book Club pick (and while I am not a huge Oprah fan, I can say that she has pretty good taste in books). I have read every novel by Shreve except for Resistance, a novel that is historical fiction (not my favorite genre, but maybe I'll get to it one day). Her releasing a new book is something I look forward to every year or two.

Imagine my surprise when I merely "liked" rather than "loved" her newest novel, Rescue. The premise does seem a little "chick lit"-like, and that is honestly how I saw the book after reading it.

A quick plot summary from Publishers Weekly, via Amazon: EMT Peter Webster is drawn to a woman he rescues at the scene of a one-car drunk driving accident. Webster is well intentioned, but alcoholic Sheila, with her dangerous history, could prove beyond his efforts to save her. . . . The two embark on an affair that evolves into marriage and parenthood with the birth of their daughter, Rowan. Sheila's drinking, meanwhile, escalates until she causes another accident, this time with young Rowan in the car, causing Webster to send Sheila away. . . . Years later, with not a word from long-gone Sheila, Rowan is a typically turmoil-ridden high school senior--moody, her grades slipping, drinking--and her tribulations prompt Webster to reach out to Sheila to help his daughter.

As the summary suggests, the novel is primarily a love story, albeit a damaged one. Shreve effectively draws characters, and this she does flawlessly in Rescue. Peter is a sympathetic main character (although, in some ways a "sad sack"). Shreve allows readers to see him both as a young man (when he meets Sheila) and as an adult father (in the present-day scenes as he parents Rowan). He shows growth and progression, which is a huge positive in my opinion. Rowan is also a memorable character, although she falls into a typical teenage stereotype towards the end with her rebellious actions. Sheila is a mystery, although perhaps that was calculated on Shreve's part. She is mysterious to Peter, and also to readers. Her character exhibits little growth.

Another enjoyable part of Rescue for me -- besides the characters -- were the EMT scenes. I enjoyed Peter's interactions with other EMTs and admired his love for his job. I wish in some ways that aspect had been focused on even more than it already was in the novel. A good part of the book is dedicated to EMT action, but it was extraordinarily interesting to me; sort of like literature meets TLC's Police Women of Memphis.

I'm not even sure exactly why the book didn't measure up to my expectations. I would guess that expectations have a lot to do with it, though. As a fan, I sometimes expect the impossible from favorite authors -- I want them to "wow" me every time. Their writing purpose, on the other hand, is not necessarily to "wow" a single fan, but to tell a story that's in their heart. It seems Shreve did that in Rescue, and just because it wasn't my favorite of her novels doesn't mean you won't like it. In fact, I think it has plenty of redeeming qualities and could be enjoyed by many readers. Variety makes the world go 'round, as they say.

Here are some different opinions about Rescue:

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