...A series of pictures emerges one by one. An upturned face, the light glancing off his fat baby cheeks, two teeth visible above a glistening pink lip. A wet, naked toddler caught up in a football hold, your son fresh from the bath and giggling. A fragile face, surrounded by the fake fur of his snowsuit hood, standing next to a melting snow fort. Your love for your son feels unbearable. And then you know why these innocent images have come to you at this moment, for innocence is what is lost now. Now that you have gotten the phone call. (from Testimony, page 15)
Anita Shreve is my favorite author (along with Amy Tan), and I've read all of her novels, aside from her latest, A Change in Altitude, which I will be reading very soon. Testimony ranks among the most intense of her books, focusing on a sex tape featuring 4 students at Vermont's Avery Academy and its far-reaching impact. Shreve opens the novel with the shocking discovery of the tape, and while the graphic sexual descriptions involving a 14-year-old girl might be too much for sensitive readers to handle, Shreve goes all out in showing the seriousness of the incident and its power to shatter lives.
Testimony is told from multiple viewpoints, and Shreve did a great job juggling the many characters. Avery's headmaster, several parents, and the students involved each are given a unique voice. Their stories move between the past and the present (which is a couple of years after the incident), detailing relationships and connections between the characters. They run the gamut of emotions -- shock, pain, sadness, loneliness, anger, guilt, even hope. Shreve shows how one event can devastate an entire community and alter lives forever. She successfully covers all sides of the story, delving deep, and while it was easy to keep track of each character, I didn't feel close to any of them. I was angry with them, and I felt sorry for them at various points within the story, but they didn't come as alive to me as the characters in Shreve's other novels.
As a mother, it was hard for me to read Testimony. How well do we really know our children? That's a scary thing to consider as my daughter inches closer to her teen years. This novel makes me want to lock her up and keep her to myself forever.
Testimony wasn't my favorite Shreve novel. (My favorites are Resistance and Sea Glass, both of which made me cry.) Although it didn't have the surprise ending I've come to expect from Shreve and the characters didn't grab me, it is a well-written, intense novel that is definitely worth checking out.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Testimony from Hachette for review purposes.