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Originally published Friday, July 19, 2013 at 5:06 AM

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‘Search Party’: stories of trouble and rescue

Seattle author Valerie Trueblood’s new story collection, “Search Party: Stories of Rescue,” shows the author as a skilled storyteller and perceptive observer of the social order. Trueblood reads Wednesday, July 24, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Valerie Trueblood

The author of “Search Party” will appear at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or elliottbaybook.com).

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Valerie Trueblood’s latest book, “Search Party: Stories of Rescue” (Counterpoint, 256 pp., $15.95), is full of neglected children and troubled adults who suffer some form of torment or deprivation inflicted by their actions or circumstance. Whether they will be delivered from that which ails them, as the title implies, is a whole different matter.

Take, for instance, Mary Ann in “Who Is He That Will Harm You.” She’s in medical school when her live-in boyfriend turns on her, when “she saw in his face something she had not learned about in her years of learning everything rapidly and well.”

The permanent brain damage resulting from his violent attack ends her career plans and channels her life in a different direction. So it’s not until a decade or so later that Mary Ann discovers the conspiracy of silence that she paid for, in spades.

Then there’s Robert, the 60-something widower in “Guatemala”: A structural engineer whose own structure has failed, he’s recovering from a stroke at his beach cabin when his sons and their girlfriends arrive to check up on Dear Old Dad.

Here’s a man struggling to hold himself above the tide of old age. “Was that what his wife would have said?” he asks himself, trying to rescue himself from irrelevance. “He still patted along some dusty shelf for Ann’s opinions.”

His visitors feel like exotic birds, especially the crippled young woman named Lupe, a refugee from Guatemala. Her appeal escapes him — that is, until she takes a late-night plunge into the salty sea. An honest-to-gosh rescue: Well, apparently, deliverance comes in many stripes.

This, Trueblood’s second short-story collection, suffers from the inclusion of a few stories so fragmentary that they seem like ideas waiting to be developed rather than finished work.

In “Street of Dreams,” for example, a real-estate agent shelters his children in one unsold house after another until Child Protective Services catches up with them in a place where the table is set with “platters instead of plates, and glasses as big as pitchers, and thick, tasseled napkins.” The story ends after 3½ pages — hardly enough to coax meaning out of this juxtaposition of homelessness and the excesses of modern culture.

The longer works, however, show the Seattle writer’s skills not only as a storyteller but also as a perceptive observer of the social order. In “Blue Grotto,” she follows a teenage baby-sitter who’s left with a very sick child while the parents run off to a fundraiser — the income gap summed up in this vignette about one poor teen and a set of upper-middle-class strivers.

In “Later or Never,” Lawrence, who has multiple sclerosis, rails about the past women in his life to his heavyset caregiver, Cami, and she listens “in the understanding that this was a race to which she did not belong and for which she did not have to answer.”

The 50-page title story is particularly noteworthy, seemingly involving two sisters whose lives are forever marked when one goes missing on the day that the other is born. But the real shared trauma lies somewhere else. Cherchez la femme.

Ellen Emry Heltzel is a Portland writer and book critic.

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