Peter Webster's daughter, Rowan, is the center of his universe. They've always been close, perhaps even closer than most other father/daughter pairs since the family consists of just the two of them. But now that Rowan is a secretive and frequently sullen 17-year-old, she has erected a wall between them, although she makes her father a delicious birthday breakfast and gives him a thoughtful gift. Webster is more than worried about her; he's terrified that she may have started drinking. His reason for that amplified fear triggers memories of how his situation --- that of concerned single father --- began.
Eighteen years earlier, Webster lived with his parents while saving his meager earnings as a new EMT. He yearned for a particular piece of land, which he visited frequently while fantasizing about buying it and building on it. In the middle of a frigid Vermont January night, Webster is called out to a one-person car accident. When he and his partner arrive at the scene, they discover an upside-down Cadillac. The young female driver --- whose name is Sheila Arsenault, according to her driver's license --- is unconscious and reeking of alcohol. At the hospital, Webster is acutely conscious of her long, glossy brown hair as she’s wheeled away, and afterward he can't quite ever put it out of his mind.
Webster knows it's ethically iffy to get involved with a patient, yet he can't resist returning to the hospital the next day to see Sheila. When he introduces himself and informs her she almost died, Sheila retorts that she didn't. Webster later will chastise himself for not just walking away from her right then and there. Nevertheless, within a week, he is tracking her down. Sheila, who is staying with an elderly couple in town, is not exactly welcoming. She announces that she steals her hosts’ liquor; indeed, Webster notices a rum bottle under her bed. However, instead of heeding these warning signs, his caretaking tendencies kick in. He insists on driving her to the grocery store for food. As he watches her carry her provisions into her home, Webster notes that she's gorgeous. He wonders if he can soften her rough edges. Or is it the rough edges that attract him so powerfully? As he visits the piece of land his heart yearns to own, he suddenly pictures a woman in his dream house.
Over the next week, Webster constantly drives by the house Sheila is staying in, and over chili and beer learns more about her. She says she doesn't like the area but thinks it might be a good place for "lying low," hiding out from the drunken cop boyfriend from whom she has fled. She hustles at a pool table, a maneuver that first makes Webster feel nervous but then excites him. All that adrenaline and pheromonal attraction lead to the inevitable --- in the middle of the night on the land of Webster's dreams. Webster begins to entertain daydreams of happily-ever-after with the mesmerizing Sheila. These fantasies are not squelched but are definitely changed after her announcement that she’s pregnant. What happens next --- and over the intervening 18 years before Webster's story picks up again --- feels both surprising and unavoidable.
As Anita Shreve's fans have come to expect, her latest tale pulls readers right into the lives of her characters, making us acutely experience Webster's joys and tragedies along with him. Webster is a sympathetic protagonist; his role as a parent and his relationship with his daughter are believable. Audiences are also likely to appreciate the realistic and fascinating portrayal of an EMT/paramedic's working life. The well-paced plot culminates in a satisfying but not-too-tidy and rather surprising resolution, making RESCUE an excellent read.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 5, 2011