In a storyline many modern working women can relate to, Manhattan lawyer Emily Aulenbach is besieged by the constant demands and eternal busyness of her life. In addition, she lacks any meaningful, deep connection with the people in her life, including her husband James, who is also a frantically busy lawyer. The frenzied pace and disconnectedness have turned her into a numb automaton, constantly checking her BlackBerry from the moment she wakes up in the morning.
"ESCAPE is another appealing page-turner from a writer who continues to earn her bestseller status."
It's telling that, as the story opens, Emily's husband is texting her at 6:15 am to back out of a dinner important to her because he must work late. This starts her day off poorly, as does the text she receives from her boss (at 6:30), demanding an update for their client. Emily and James were once idealists who dreamed they would use their law expertise one day to help innocent people. Today, however, Emily finds herself working in a cubicle and talking to victims of a company called Eagle River that sold tainted bottled water --- and she’s working for the bottled water company. She interviews the victims to find out what effects they've had in order to figure out the minimum amount Eagle River can award each case. She despises her job, even though she knows she should be grateful to have one.
Other stresses pressure Emily that morning. Her sister, Kelly, demands that she work on planning their mother's birthday party. A woman from Emily's book group --- really more of an acquaintance than a close friend --- expects Emily to be a bridesmaid and to attend her bachelorette party in Las Vegas. The demands just keep piling on, which is nothing new, as they are just part of Emily's busy, busy, busy life. Underlying her day-to-day burdens are her own unsuccessful attempts to conceive a child.
When Emily arrives to work at 7:45, she answers her first call of the morning from a victim of the company she works for. It's a young woman with a tentative voice who has suffered miscarriages and now has been told the baby she’s carrying has problems. The caller drank Eagle River water during her pregnancies. Emily's boss looms over her as she talks with the claimant, telling Emily the computers are down. She promises to call the woman back. In the lull, James texts her to ask her to really dress up for his firm's dinner the next weekend.
That’s the last straw.
Emily goes home and packs her suitcase. She's not sure where she's going, but she can't continue her life as is. As she throws clothing into her bag, she comes across the most recent letter from the man who broke her heart many years ago. Jude happens to be the brother of Vicki, who had been her best friend. For some reason, he occasionally writes to her from far-off places. In this letter, he tells her that a friend of his has died. He's planning to return to Bell Valley, the New Hampshire town where their relationship bloomed and then was cut short. Emily loves her husband and doesn't trust Jude, but yearns for the comfort of Vicki and the peacefulness of Bell Valley.
The setup may lead readers to fear we're being led down some mighty familiar paths. However, prolific author Barbara Delinsky twists her plot, giving Emily's story refreshing new perspectives. Subplots are naturally intertwined, nicely augmenting the main story. Emily feels like a real person, and so do more minor characters, such as Vicki's mother Amelia. It would have been easy to make Amelia a stock character, but her personality is layered and three-dimensional. ESCAPE is another appealing page-turner from a writer who continues to earn her bestseller status.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on July 5, 2011