Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Testimony by Anita Shreve

...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.


gautami tripathy said...

I liked The Pilot's Wife by Shreve. I think I will check this out.

gautami tripathy said...

I forgot to add that I teach girls this age and I can't tell how shocked we are by some of their behaviour.

Lack of awarness is the main problem. I try to do my bit.

Julie P. said...

I really enjoyed TESTIMONY, but I think I was in the minority. I've read most of Shreve's novels and I'm almost ready to start her latest!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy Shreve for the most part, and I thought Testimony was decent. Sea Glass also made me cry!

Jo-Jo said...

I also love Anita Shreve, and I do have this book on my shelf at home, just haven't had a chance to get to it yet. But I have a feeling I will also enjoy it as controversial as it is. Sea Glass and Resistance are a couple of my favorites also. Did you know that Resistance was made into a movie with Bill Paxton?

bookmagic said...

I've been think about this book. I wanted to get Sea Glass, but read bad reviews. Maybe I'll give it another look

Unknown said...

I agree with the urge to lock the kids away! I can't believe what some of them are talking about even in elementary school.

I'll have to wait a little before starting this one since I just got done with another intense book.

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like I enjoyed this one more than you did. The headmaster's actions really made me think about how we affect other people.

Wanda said...

I won this one awhile back and am hoping to get to it this fall. Love Anita Shreve! The Weight of Water is my favourite but Resistance and Sea Glass are way up there too.

Belle said...

I haven't read any of Anita Shreve's books, and I keep thinking I should really rectify that. Some good news for you - my daughter is in her teens and I see the same strength in her as she had when she was younger. Just stronger, if that makes sense!

Julie said...

I didn't care for this one at all. Her newest one sounds better than this one. I didn't like any of the characters. Which isn't always a must for a book but it helps. I've read almost all of them.

Sea Glass and Fortune's Rock are a couple of my favs.

Staci said...

I won this one a while back just haven't gotten to it yet. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on it!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I liked Testimony. Resistance, Eden Close, and Strange Fits of passion are my favorites. I'm reading A Change of Altitude (her latest book now).

I really enjoyed your review Anna; thanks

Veens said...

I have not read anything by this author.. and I know everyone keeps on telling me to pick one! I will try and get to the 2 other books you mention! I totally understand your feelings as a mom for your baby.. it is scary!

DCMetroreader said...

Testimony does sound intense, but also a great read! I haven't read this yet, but I guess I will put it on my to be read list.

Alyce said...

I haven't read any Anita Shreve novels other than Testimony, so I appreciate the recommendation for her other books.

Serena said...

This wasn't my favorite novel either, but I really did like it more than you did.

Literary Feline said...

Thank you for your great review, Anna. I have a copy of this one sitting in my TBR collection to read. I've heard mostly good things about it. I read Fortune's Rock by the author a few years ago and really liked it. And to think people have said that's not one of her best! I look forward to exploring this author more.

Kailana said...

This looks good, actually. I think this will be the next Shreve book that I try! It's been years since I read her!

christina said...

Do I live under a rock? I've never read this author, but this novel sounds incredible.

Literate Housewife said...

I have been keeping my eye on this novel since I've first heard about. Your review makes me want to read it even more. I hear you about wanting to keep your daughter locked up, though. I've only read one of her novels before - Light on Snow and I really enjoyed it. I don't know why I haven't read more.

The Bookworm said...

I have this one in my TBR. It does
sound intense.
After your review, I wonder if i'd be put off by it. My son is 13 now.

S. Krishna said...

I'm so glad you included your favorite Anita Shreve books in this post! I haven't read many by her, but I'm going to check those out.

Anna said...

~gautami: I hope you get a chance to read it. The Pilot's Wife was the first Shreve novel I read, and I agree it was good. I applaud you for trying to make a difference as a teacher. My husband wants me to go back to school to teach, but I don't think I have the patience.

~Julie P.: I'm getting read to start her latest, too. I hope people don't think I disliked Testimony. I thought it was good, just not as good as my favorite Shreve novels.

~heatherlo: I was so surprised at the end of Sea Glass. I was sad and angry. I love how Shreve can do that to me.

~Jo-Jo: I know we already talked about the movie via e-mail, but I figure I'll say it here, too. I liked the movie, but I didn't like how the ending was so different from the ending of the book. Hope you get a chance to read Testimony soon.

~bookmagic: See, I absolutely loved Sea Glass. Hope you give it a shot.

~Janel: Yeah, you probably don't want to follow one intense book with this one.

~bermudaonion: I didn't much like the character of the headmaster, but you're right...it does make you think.

~Wanda: I think The Weight of Water is one of my least favorites, but only because the story from the past grabbed me so much more than the plotline taking place in the present, if that makes sense.

~Bella: Yup, that makes sense, and I'm glad to hear it. I keep telling myself that I turned out okay so I'm sure The Girl will, too.

~Julie: Sorry you didn't much like this one. I enjoyed Fortune's Rocks, too.

~Staci: Thanks. Hope you get to it soon.

~Diane: Thanks! Eden Close and Strange Fits of Passion were good, too, but not my faves. It's really hard to rank them because I pretty much enjoyed all of her books on some level.

~Veens: If you haven't read Shreve, you need to stop what you're doing and get your hands on one of her books. LOL

~DCMetroreader: Hope you get a chance to read it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

~Alyce: I hope you get to read more of Shreve's work.

~Serena: I liked it, but I didn't love it.

~Literary Feline: I hope you get to read more Shreve, too. She's so worth it.

~Kailana: I hope you get a chance to read it soon.

~christina: Please get your hands on a Shreve book now. LOL I'm politely ordering you. ;)

~Literate Housewife: Light on Snow was pretty good. I hope you read more of her work.

~naida: It's hard to read this one if you have kids, in my opinion, but I wouldn't let that stop you.

~S. Krishna: I hope you get a chance to read them. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

avisannschild said...

I'm not sure how I missed your review, Anna, but as you know, I agree that the characters didn't come alive as much as in her other books. I haven't read either of your favourites (mine are The Pilot's Wife and Fortune's Rocks), but I think I own both of them, so I'll have to give them a try!

I linked to your review, but I wasn't sure whether I should put it in the "much more favourable than mine" category or the "less-than-favourable" category... (At the moment it's in the former.)

avisannschild said...

And then I changed my mind and put it in the "less-than-favourable" category. Let me know what you think!

By the way, sorry I didn't reply to your BEA comment; it would be lovely to meet in New York!

Anna said...

~avisannschild: Thanks for linking to my review. It's not that I didn't like the book; it just wasn't my favorite Anita Shreve book. I think I'm more critical of her work having read all of her previous novels. Anyway, whatever category you think is best. LOL