Testimony by Anita Shreve
2008 Back Bay Books (first published in 2008
Finished on April 28, 2021
Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)
At a New England boarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora's box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices--those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal--that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment.
Writing with a pace and intensity surpassing even her own greatest work, Anita Shreve delivers in Testimony a gripping emotional drama with the impact of a thriller. No one more compellingly explores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming innocents, the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.
My focus for 2021 is to read from my own shelves, selecting older, backlist titles that I've neglected for one reason or another. Anita Shreve is an author I enjoy reading, but her books tend to be hit and miss, so I ignored Testimony, afraid it would be another disappointment like A Wedding in December or Sea Glass. I shouldn't have worried, as I wound up loving this novel (which I've had for a dozen years) just as much as Body Surfing, Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife.
I went into the book cold, skipping all the blurbs and reviews, and had I not known it was written by Shreve, I would have bet that it was one of Jodi Picoult's popular novels. Tackling a serious social issue, but absent the courtroom drama and major twist at the end, one could easily mistake this for one of her books. And yet, Shreve pulled me in from the opening pages just as skillfully as Picoult. Unraveling the timeline of events through numerous voices, I was able to witness the actions (and reactions) of each character, finding some more sympathetic and believable than others. Each voice propels the story forward, providing more information, which fills in the gaps in other "testimonies."
Testimony is such a thought-provoking story and would be a great book to discuss with a book group. I can see how some readers would blame the boys (was it rape?) and others would blame the underage girl (was it seduction?). Is underage drinking to blame?
This is a compulsive read and the short chapters kept me turning the pages. It feels a little strange to say that I loved a book about a sex scandal, but it is so well-written and I came to care about several of the characters. I don't think any of us can claim to be free of making foolish or stupid choices in our lives and this book is a good reminder that a single act can irrevocably alter the future of not just one, but many lives, in an instant.