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The Lifesaver is a novel written by Frost Devereaux and the first published under his own name. The story deals with a man searching for information on a nurse who saves his life during a liquor store robbery.

Plot Summary


The story begins with the unnamed narrator entering a liquor store in New York City late one night. The narrator became an alcoholic after finding his wife of several years sleeping with another man. In addition to losing his wife, the narrator has recently lost his job as well and plans to buy enough alcohol "to put myself down." The only other customer in the liquor store is another man, who like the narrator, seems down on his luck. This is the case, as the man pulls out a gun to rob the liquor store.

The robbery goes wrong first when the man drops the money, allowing the clerk to reach for a weapon. A standoff ensues with the thief holding the narrator hostage. The door opens and the thief wildly turns and opens fire before running away. The victim of this shooting is a nurse at a local hospital. The narrator, looking down at her body and feeling that she's given him a second chance, wants to learn more about his lifesaver.

He first goes to the hospital where she works only to find her coworkers know little about her. She worked in the emergency room, most often on the night shifts, and rarely said anything about herself. A conversation with one of her recent patients likewise yields little information to the narrator.

Undeterred, he breaks into her apartment, but there are few clues there either. The nurse owned little furniture and most of her possessions were still in boxes as though she were going to move. In one of these boxes he finds a picture of an older man, presumably her father. The only other clue to the nurse's past is a program for Death of A Salesman performed by the University of Iowa drama department fifteen years earlier. The actor playing Willy Loman is circled.

The narrator takes a bus to the University of Iowa, where he asks faculty about the program and the actor the circled. The actor is currently working as a television director in Vancouver. The narrator travels to Vancouver, where he tracks down the actor-turned-director.

For the first time the narrator learns intimate details about the nurse. In particular, the director recounts the summer where he first met the nurse while she was a nursing student. She set the director's broken arm after he fell off a wire during a performance of Peter Pan. The director and nurse spent much of the summer together, at first in bliss, but later their relationship soured as the director's addiction to painkillers became more noticeable. They spent one final week together in a secluded cabin, with the nurse weaning the director off the painkillers. After she pronounced him "clean," the nurse left.

The director confesses that he knows little of the nurse's background for this, but he knows she came from Australia. In particular, she lived in Melbourne for a time. Emptying his bank account, the narrator boards a plane for Melbourne in a seemingly hopeless quest.

In Melbourne, the narrator scours the library for any information on the nurse. He happens upon an article praising the nurse for saving a man from choking while working as a waitress at a café. The narrator visits the café, only to find the manager unwilling to provide any information except to say that the nurse left with no notice. A sympathetic waitress provides the narrator with the name of the nurse's former roommate.

The former roommate is now married with two young children. She and the nurse lived together for three years, but the roommate knows little other than the nurse comes from a remote town in the Outback. Using most of the little money he has left, the narrator arranges transport to the town. But while camping overnight, the narrator is attacked by his driver and robbed.

Wandering through the Outback with no food or water, the narrator comes upon an Aborigine tribesman. To the narrator's surprise, the tribesman is familiar with the nurse and in particular, her father-the man in the photograph in the nurse's apartment. Once he is recovered enough, the tribesman takes the narrator to the decrepit ranch where the nurse's father still lives.

The encounter with the nurse's father is the final confrontation in the book. The father tells of a gruesome car accident in which he lost his leg. The nurse was unharmed, but was forced to watch her mother bleed slowly to death while she could do nothing. After the accident, the nurse took to caring for her father until she was nineteen. Her father admits to instigating a violent argument to drive his daughter to Melbourne. "I couldn't let her waste her life on a cripple," the father says. He invites the narrator to stay as long as he wants, but the narrator decides to return to America as soon as possible.

On the way back to America, the narrator reflects that the nurse had been a lifesaver her entire life, ever since that horrible car accident. "Fate built her for saving lives-including mine," the narrator says, concluding his story.