Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rescue by Anita Shreve

A poor sap keeps rescuing people, especially pretty young women

I am a huge Anita Shreve fan for two reasons – she’s a good story teller, an efficient scene constructer and an amazing prose stylist. Rescue has an engrossing story, but no prose styling, alas (maybe as beautiful prose requires sweating blood and producing a novel a year precludes that). Overall, as I half expected, this book was a disappointment. It’s about Webster, an uneducated ambulance driver who becomes responsible after having to raise an unplanned child, his alcoholic wife Sheila orgasming with guilt over drinking and abandoning their child. She disappears. Fourteen years later, when daughter Rowan suddenly starts drinking to oblivion, he goes to find Sheila. (This last part is really not motivated – not the daughter’s drinking, not Webster’s search.)

At a certain point I realized – this is popular fiction, not literary fiction. A tinny heart of sentimentality beats at its core. It made me wonder about the differences between literary and popular fiction, apart from the prose style, which was plain and beautiful and not clichéd. First of all, early on the characters became one note. There was no inner conflict. Secondly, there were way too many bald faced coincidences. Now I realize an EMT in a rural area is going to meet his family when they have accidents – but must his family have so many accidents? Price and Prejudice has lots of coincidences, but they are carefully woven into the story and are pretty much unnoticeable. Thirdly, there were too many death bed type hospital scenes. The drama and stakes felt forced. Finally, all the characters had a well of nobility that was frankly boring. Striving for nobility is interesting – being born noble is boring unless the nobility is tempted and these guys were never tempted. Nobody is selfish, like they are in real life.

The upshot is that I am less likely to read an Anita Shreve novel.

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