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Anita Shreve again looks at love and moments of loss in new novel, 'Rescue'

Anita Shreve knows love may be intense, life-changing and passionate,but it is never enough. Her characters bruise each other as much asthey comfort each other and in “Rescue,” their lack of understandingleads to wrecked lives and loneliness.

“Rescue” (Little, Brown, $26.99), by Anita Shreve: Anita Shreve knows love may be intense, life-changing and passionate, but it is never enough. Her characters bruise each other as much as they comfort each other and in “Rescue,” their lack of understanding leads to wrecked lives and loneliness.

Peter Webster, a rookie paramedic when the novel opens - and a straight arrow throughout the story - pulls a drunken young woman out of her wrecked car one cold winter night in Vermont and helps save her life. He is drawn to her, despite perceiving the chaos she represents.

Sheila Arsenault has a very troubled life. On the run from an abusive lover, she obviously has a drinking problem and a wild streak that Peter has trouble understanding.

At first it seems that love may conquer all, but Shreve flashes forward 18 years and Peter is alone, raising his teenage daughter, Rowan.

Rowan is having her own problems, including an apparent taste for booze. The possibility that she may be an alcoholic chills Peter's blood.

Fearing that his beloved daughter is facing disaster, Peter decides Sheila is the only person who can understand and help Rowan. He tracks down his former wife, even though he dreads having contact with her.

“This is a shock. You coming here,” Sheila tells Peter after he asks her to help Rowan. “I was her mother, and then I wasn't. You of all people should know that. I severed the mother-daughter tie the minute I got in the car drunk with Rowan in the back.”

Peter thinks about how he forced Sheila to leave, but sees no good in bringing that up, instead asking her to think about his request.

“Rescue” is full of the themes that Shreve loves: How a moment can change a life; loss and love; forgiveness and pain. These have often been the backbone for her writing.

How could Peter not work harder at understanding Sheila and helping her when he had the chance? How could Sheila not work harder at sobriety? And how could one horrifying moment draw Peter and Sheila together while another drove them apart?

When they meet again, Sheila asks if they are divorced and Peter tells her they are.

“Well, you had to.”

“I did,” he says. “For peace of mind.”

“And did you get it? Peace of mind.”

That's a rare commodity in Shreve's books.

“Rescue” is Shreve at her best, looking at a family tragedy and the events that caused those involved to reevaluate their past and to find the courage to possibly change their lives.

 
 
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