In Shreve’s latest (A Change in Altitude, 2009, etc.), an EMT medic falls in love with a woman he saves and ends up raising their child alone.
At 21, (Peter) Webster has just begun a career as an EMT in Hartstone, Vt., where he still lives with his parents, when he’s called to the scene of a one car smashup. Despite himself, Webster is drawn to the victim, Sheila, and breaks protocol to seek her out. Drunk when she crashed, Sheila is a lovely 24-year-old from Chelsea, Mass., running away from her abusive cop lover. She is also a pool hustler who has lived by her wits all her life. Webster’s not sure she genuinely loves him the way he loves her, but ultimately he doesn’t care. When she becomes pregnant, he puts aside his plans to buy the land he’s dreamed of owning and marries her. Despite misgivings, his parents are supportive, and their baby daughter Rowan is a delight. At first life seems to be perfect for the young couple. But Webster begins to see signs that Sheila is drinking again as he confides in both his parents and his partner at work. The marriage turns rocky as Sheila spirals down. The crisis occurs when she drives drunk, with Rowan in town, and causes an accident with injuries to both Rowan and the other driver. To avoid jail, she agrees to leave Rowan with Webster and disappear. Every woman’s ideal of the nurturing male, Webster devotes his life to Rowan. Eighteen years later, Rowan is a high-school senior, and the joy of Webster’s life. Then her life goes off the rails, in part because she thinks she’s inherited Sheila’s alcoholism. Webster selflessly tracks down Sheila, who has stopped drinking and become a painter, because he realizes Rowan needs her.
A pale novel, heavy on uplift and padded with episodes of Webster responding as an EMT to various crises, but it’s hard not to root for such a WASP mensch.