three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
By: 
Anita Shreve
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-Testimony.epsAfter a terrible game, three inebriated upper-class basketball players at Vermont’s prestigious Avery Academy end up in a dorm room and have sex with a freshman girl. A videotape of the incident lands in headmaster Mike Bordwin’s hands, and as news of the sex scandal spreads, everyone involved—the guilty and the innocent alike—find their lives forever changed. Told in alternating voices—those of the academy’s headmaster, the three accused boys, their parents, police, bystanders, and others—Testimony explores the vast ramifications of a single action, which "can cause a life to veer off in a direction it was never meant to go." In this tale of family, peer pressure, underage drinking, and guilty secrets, no one walks away unscathed.
Little, Brown. 320 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 0316059862

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s an ambitious narrative technique, but Shreve nails it and makes you understand and even sympathize with everyone involved. Just read one chapter about Silas—the kid who lands a scholarship, falls in love, and watches it all tumble apart during the course of a single day—and try not to shed a tear." Kate Ward

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Shreve presents the story in character-told chapters, mostly in the first person; disconcerting at first as we struggle to parse out the timeline, it’s a device that lends urgency to a story that starts out as simply sordid and devolves into tragedy. … [A]lthough the story begins and ends with the teenagers, it is the bruised grownups— Bordwin in particular—who resonate most profoundly." Cynthia Dickison

San Antonio Express-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Told in alternating voices, allowing each of the students to tell their own version of the tape’s events, the novel is most gripping and provoking when the parents of the accused boys speak about how the incident shocked and shaped them. … The author falters, however, in not fully developing all of the characters here, especially since the girl who appears on the tape is left very much a blank slate." Jennifer Roolf Laster

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The one-way nature of our mistakes makes for an interesting, if somewhat uncompelling, hypothesis. But in the end, Shreve never gives her own characters the necessary depth or breadth, leaving us to feel like judgmental, if hopeful, outsiders ourselves." Erika Schickel

Telegraph (UK) 2 of 5 Stars
"Testimony is a page-turner, its language crisp and uncluttered. But its emotional manipulations are so transparent that when it ends what remains is not catharsis, just relief that it’s over." Kamila Shamsie

Critical Summary

Most reviewers hailed Testimony as a deft, insightful exploration into the tragic, far-ranging effects of a single night. Yet critics diverged on a number of points. Some thought that Shreve’s diverse perspectives made the sex scandal and other characters’ plights, such as those of the guilt-ridden adults, more immediate. But a few claimed that the fractured narrative distracted from examining the morally gray situation more fully and decreased the overall emotional impact. Character development similarly raised questions. As the reviewer from Los Angeles Times noted, the girl on the tape—portrayed more as vixen than victim—"is Shreve’s missed opportunity for an exploration of what drives young girls toward promiscuity." In the end, however, Testimony—like Shreve’s other novels—is not always enjoyable, but it’s impossible to put down.