Rescue by Anita Shreve

February 11, 2011

Plot summary (with spoilers): Rescue tells the story of Pete Webster, an up-and-coming EMT in rural Vermont. Life changes for 21-year-old Pete when he’s called out to the scene of a one-car accident. The injured party is a young woman named Sheila Arsenault, who had been driving drunk, without auto insurance or any kind of health insurance like Blue Advantage. Pete doesn’t care about any of that, though. He thinks she’s beautiful, and against regulations, continues to follow up on Sheila’s progress in the hospital. He continues to visit once Shelia is released, and soon the two start dating.

Sheila becomes pregnant just four short months later, and Pete decides to marry her — much to the shock of his parents. He doesn’t care what it looks like, though; he’s in love and is eager to begin a full life with Sheila. They welcome daughter Rowan into the world, and Pete feels his world is complete. That satisfaction doesn’t last long, however, as Shelia begins drinking heavily again. One afternoon she gets into another car crash after having had several drinks. This time Rowan was one of the injured parties as well. Pete won’t stand for that and orders Sheila to leave. Seeing as she would be facing jail time anyway, she slinks back off to Boston.

The story then skips ahead to when Rowan is a senior in high school. She and Pete were close when Rowan was growing up, but she has begun to drift in recent months. Pete knows she’s drinking, and worries that her risky behavior will have a negative impact on her chances of going to college. Now Pete has to do what he can to put Rowan on the right path so she doesn’t ruin her life just as her mother did.

Warning: Spoilers below:


  • I liked the fact that Shreve didn’t go overboard with Rowan’s drinking and have her enter rehab or a 12-step program. Look, plenty of high school kids drink and do stupid things — up to and including getting someone killed. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact of life. That doesn’t mean they’re full-blown alcoholics, though. It just means they’re incredibly young and stupid.
  • It was interesting to get a book from Shreve that focused on a single father raising a daughter on his own. She kind of touched on this theme in a previous novel (Light on Snow), but the stories themselves are vastly different.


  • I wasn’t really invested in any of the characters. Readers learn the most about Pete, but even he still felt shadowy and unformed by the end of the novel. We didn’t learn enough about Sheila to understand why Pete wanted to be with her in the first place or why he invited her back into their lives at the end. And Rowan… well, she was just kind of a generic teen girl that could have been ripped from the pages of countless other novels.
  • The climax of the story was pretty melodramatic. Drunk kids go swimming/diving in a rock quarry on prom night, one dies, one gets injured. Geez, does that sound like an after school special, or what?
  • Since we didn’t get much about Sheila anyway, I think the book would have been much better if her scenes were whittled down to just the basics and more of the story focused on Pete raising Rowan on his own. The Pete/Rowan scenes were definitely the most interesting in the novel, so the work as a whole would have benefited from having more of them.
  • Did Shreve have to include so many accident scenes? Again, just one or two would have sufficed to give us a look at what Pete did on the job. Whenever Shreve cut away to those scenes, it just detracted from the main storyline. The book was so short as it was that it just felt like she was wasting time there.
  • The main story didn’t have much substance to it. Take away the EMT scenes and the early stuff about Sheila, neither of which are essential to the plot, and what’s left? Not much of anything.


I generally like Anita Shreve books (or I used to at any rate), but I was a bit disappointed with Rescue. This novel didn’t have any of the unexpected twists, relatable characters, or beautiful writing that usually mark this author’s work. This was an average piece that deserves an average rating. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

One Response to “Rescue by Anita Shreve”

  1. How does the book end

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