Webster first saw her “wrapped around a tree,” the victim of an automobile accident he was called to help with as a new recruit for the local emergency rescue service. At once, Sheila’s “glossy brown hair” cancels out her “blood-alcohol point two-four,” and Webster finds himself hopelessly in love with her.

Beautiful, defensive and addicted to alcohol, Sheila nevertheless tries to be what he needs. You want the book to stop on page 116, because you dare to hope that the relationship might work. But then reality sets in. Within a couple of years, Webster finds himself—full of regrets and unanswered questions—raising their young daughter, Rowan, alone. When, after 18 years, history begins to repeat itself, Webster has to consider facing the doubts and questions that will arise if he contacts Sheila again.

Anita Shreve has been called “the queen of domestic drama,” and she does not disappoint here. Like her previous 15 novels, Rescue deals with the common denominators of life—love, family, loss and desperation—and her equations balance out in the end, much to the reader’s satisfaction. Shreve has a knack for evoking that particular pleasure that comes from witnessing a well-presented and reasonable slice of life. Not so pleasurable is her description of “the death of attraction” between Webster and Sheila, but it is simple, effective and true to life.

A dividend here is Webster’s career as an emergency medical technician, which Shreve describes authoritatively, making it not just a career choice but an extension of his purpose in life. This is a thoughtful, television-proof book—leave the set on and Rescue will still drown it out.

 

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