Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Hardcover, 305 pages, 2008
Reason for Reading: I’ve read about half of Shreve’s novels and I’ve enjoyed them all so far.
Synopsis: A private school erupts in scandal when a sex tape is discovered, featuring a fourteen-year-old girl, three male students eighteen and older, and an unknown cameraperson. The story of the scandal is recounted through the eyes of some of the students, their parents, the headmaster, and several other people with a glimpse into what really happened…and what may have caused the scandal.
Why you should read this book: Captivating from the first page, Testimony breaks away from Shreve’s more dreamy usual style into something gripping, forceful, and immediate. Each of the characters has their own distinct voice, with Shreve effortlessly making us believe she is speaking as a middle-aged man, a teenage girl, or a young man in love but frustrated by the way events have turned. We’ve all seen this sort of scandal in the news, but Shreve takes us deeper into imagining what might be going on in the minds of a multitude of characters. Private scandals are piled on top of the sex tape scandal as marriages fall apart, secrets are revealed, and people ask themselves the impossible question: why? As the plot twists and turns, slowly revealing the truth, you’ll find yourself unable to stop reading until you finally know the real story.
Why you should avoid this book: Testimony is graphic in places, owing to the nature of the book, but it’s probably less disturbing for how graphic it is and more disturbing to imagine, as a parent, that this is the way teenagers often act – and that sometimes maybe the adults are partially responsible for it.
It was a small cassette, not much bigger than the palm of his hand, and when Mike thought about the terrible license and risk exhibited on the tape, as well as its resultant destructive power, it was as though the two-by-three plastic package had been radioactive. Which it may as well have been, since it had produced something very like radiation sickness throughout the school, reducing the value of an Avery education, destroying at least two marriages he knew of, ruining the futures of three students, and, most horrifying of all, resulting in a death. After Kaisa brought Mike the tape in a white letter envelope (as if he might be going to mail it to someone!), Mike walked home with it and watched it on his television – an enormously complicated and frustrating task since he first had to find his own movie camera that used similar tapes and figure out how to connect its various cables to the television so that the tape could play through the camera. Sometimes Mike wished he had just slipped the offensive tape into a pot of boiling water, or sent it out with the trash in a white plastic drawstring bag, or spooled it out with a pencil and wadded it into a big mess. Although he doubted he could have controlled the potential scandal, he might have been able to choreograph it differently, possibly limiting some of the damage.
‘Well, you’re probably wondering why you’re here,’ Mike said. ‘There’s been an incident.’
Mike named the girl and told Silas the reason he had been summoned. The blood left Silas’s head, and the skin of his face turned the color of the cream trim at the windows.
‘Silas?’ Mike asked.
Silas gave his head a slight shake.
‘Silas, you’re not in trouble.’
The silence was so prolonged that Mike had time to register Kaisa’s voice in the anteroom, a worrying ping of rain against the window (there was a varsity soccer game he was scheduled to attend later that day), the small of coffee brewing in the lobby. ‘All I’m doing, really,’ he explained, ‘is trying to confirm the truth of what the girl said.’
Mike shifted in his chair. Silas’s gaze was fixed on the lip of the desk. Mike didn’t know what the boy was seeing in his mind’s eye: His mother’s reaction to the news? The girl groping him? A future at the public high school?
My father, he was, like, Oh my God, you have to call the police. And I’m going, I’m not gonna call the police. And my father said I had to do this, because it was rape and I was a victim and this was wrong, and no school should get away with this, and so he called the police, and when they came to my room I was so freaked out, because it was so weird and so surreal, and I knew everyone would hate me for this. But they said I had to go to the hospital, it was the law, and then I knew that my father was right, this was big, and I had to do the right thing, so I went and told them everything I knew, which wasn’t much because I was, like, completely out of it the entire time. I don’t remember anything about that night. I know they found alcohol in my blood when I went to the hospital, but my lawyer got that thrown out because it was four days later, and what difference did it make that I had an alcohol level of, like, whatever?
Also recommended: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller; Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre; Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.
Also by this author: A Wedding in December; Light on Snow; All He Ever Wanted; Sea Glass; The Last Time They Met; Fortune’s Rocks; The Pilot’s Wife; The Weight of Water; Resistance; Where or When; Strange Fits of Passion; Eden Close.
Fun tidbit: Click here to see a video of Shreve talking about Testimony.
Would I read more by this author? I’ll probably read all of Shreve’s books at some point.
© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2008