Saturday 10 December 2016

Review: Rescue by Anita Shreve

Little Brown, €22.99, Hardback

Published 16/04/2011 | 05:00

American writer Anita Shreve is an international bestseller on the more thoughtful end of popular fiction. Her first six novels did quite well but her seventh The Pilot's Wife (she is herself a pilot's daughter) was selected by Oprah in 1998 and she has had a huge following ever since, selling millions of books worldwide.

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Shreve's latest novel Rescue, her seventeenth, takes a small-town American boy and plunges him into the maelstrom of fate, choice and the price of living with our decisions.

Peter Webster is a young man on the verge of starting his carefully planned career as a paramedic. His elderly parents are quietly proud of their only child. He answers an emergency call in the middle of the night and finds himself fighting to save the life of the drunken young woman who has crashed her car. Her name is Sheila Arsenault and nobody expects her to survive her injuries.

Something about this woman draws Peter to her although becoming involved with former patients is not strictly ethical. In the process of helping her to restore some normality to what is obviously a fractured and troubled life he falls passionately in love. Their brief marriage produces a daughter, Rowan, and Peter struggles to keep his wayward wife on the rails, but to no avail. Unable to cope with the pressure of responsibility Sheila disappears.

Many years later as Rowan prepares to graduate from high school her behaviour changes for the worst. Peter's previously studious and well-behaved daughter hits the bottle and starts to spiral out of control. He realises that beneath the surface Rowan is tormented by unanswered questions. So begins Peter's journey back deep into his past and the woman who abandoned him and their infant daughter.

This is a story of love, betrayal and ultimately renewal. In her quiet, almost passive way Shreve allows the tale of apparently normal lives to unfold and reveal the complexities beneath. The pace allows for her perceptive characterisation and the simultaneous steady building of drama and tension. This is Shreve doing what she does best.

-- MB

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