Rescue – Anita Shreve

Good friends of ours have done it – remaining together till this day and raising three fine lads to adulthood to boot. A beautiful work colleague has done it as well, tying the knot to Rod Stewart’s rendition of ‘Have I told You Lately’. And Anita Shreve has done it too – married a childhood sweetheart, but after a convoluted journey.

She met John Osborn at a summer camp when she was a mere 13 years old. During this period of time in their relationship they merely held hands – didn’t even kiss. When they went their separate ways at the end of summer the tyranny of distance intervened and they lost touch. In 1991 Shreve published her second novel, ‘Strange Fits of Passion’. John espied it in a bookshop, recognised the name and on a whim, wrote to Shreve’s publisher. The author by this stage had two marriages behind her and was in another relationship when her editor handed her the letter. ‘Did she remember him?’ the letter-writer had queried. She did. She had thought of him many times down through the decades, wondering. She initiated a correspondence between them that lasted for several months before they eventually met. It wasn’t long before they knew – the chemistry they first discerned as children hadn’t abated. They had to disentangle themselves from their partners, but eventually they too wed childhood sweethearts.

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Anita’s own romantic story would make good fodder for one of her own novels. Her life experience is perhaps one of the reasons she has been so successful for such a long time. She knows the heights and pitfalls of love so well. Sometimes it just simply has to be that convoluted journey before the right one is found or, as with her, comes back into one’s life. Sometimes it is just simply there forever.

It is essentially romantic fiction she writes – both historical and contemporary. She has the knack of producing page-turners with just the right amount of literary merit so as not to make them merely disposable as, say, Nicholas Sparks. She is perhaps the US equivalent to somebody like Joanna Trollope. She can build a sense of place exceedingly well, particularly if it is in her own north-east corner of the States – and even more so if the magic ingredient of the sea is included. ‘The Weight of Water’ and ‘Fortune’s Rocks’ are two fine examples of the latter. Her work is often pigeon-holed as women’s fiction as she writes of her own gender with such vivacity and knowingness.

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With ‘Rescue’ she breaks the mould somewhat as it is a paramedic, in John Webster, who takes centre stage. There is not much of the sea, either, involved here, although it does have a Vermont setting. Webster falls for one of his rescuees in the wild-child Sheila – choc-full of spunk and demons. For a while our hero tames her and together they produce a female child, Rowan. But it all becomes too much, this small town life. Sheila drowns her post-natal blues in grog, to the extent that hubby is forced to give her her marching orders for the sake of the baby girl. He takes on the onerous task of single dad-dom, making a fair fist of it, But oh, those dreaded teenage years! Darling daughter begins to display, during these, the same symptoms that wrecked her mother’s life. Who should her father call on for assistance when eventually he reaches his wits’ end? You can probably guess that.

Throughout the story there are vignettes about the pointy end of a paramedic’s life. There is as much interest in these as there is in how the main narrative will pan out – all to Shreve’s credit. A highlight is the black humour found in a failed suicide attempt.

Shreve is in fine form here with ‘Rescue’ being up there with her accessible best – with ‘Testimony’, ‘A Wedding in December’, ‘All He Ever Wanted’ and ‘Resistance’. Occasionally, she does get a little too heavy handed with literary pretensions which provide roadblocks to the enjoyment of some of her oeuvre, but not so here. This is just darn good, straight forward storytelling, ideal for a beach holiday, that long flight or as a salve between weightier tomes. In it John Webster’s love unravels – but will he be able to make it whole again? It is worth reading to find out.

Anita Shreve’s website = http://www.anitashreve.com/

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