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When I sit down to read an Anita Shreve novel I know it will be different from the last one I read. She seems to push herself in new directions with each book. I may not always connect with the characters she creates or get swept into the plot but I will always recognize the effort and skill behind the process.
Testimony I started knowing the basic plot and the basic narration technique. It's about the fallout from a video tape showing a girl having sex with three boys. The problem: she's 14 and some of them are 18. Worse yet, the school headmaster has had the brilliant idea of covering things up. All of these events are told as a series of short chapters, most of which are told from the first person point of view of someone who either participated or was affected by the event.
For all those many different personalities all vying for a piece of the story, Shreve does an excellent job of creating unique and believable voices for each character who testifies. Her teens sound like teens. Her recent adults still sound like kids sometimes. The parents sound like parents. All of these voices come together to show how one night of bad decisions continue to have consequences rippling through the community.
As I read Testimony I was reminded in a number of places to J. Thomas's young adult gay romance Without Sin. Both deal with relationships at private schools and touch on the theme of consequences. Testimony shows the aftermath and Without Sin ends without playing through all the consequences. In both, the relationships are hardest on the parents, teachers and other adult authorities at the schools. Even for the young men in Testimony who had to serve time for their participation come through the book more hopeful than the older adults.
Testimony isn't a cut and dry morality tale. Instead, it is a character study. It throws people into a bad situation to see what can be learned about human nature.
Comment #1: Thursday, October, 1, 2009 at 01:27:48
I've got this one on my "Fall into Reading" list. I'm looking forward to it.
Comment #2: Friday, October 2, 2009 at 18:04:35
I hope you enjoy it. The first chapter is a bit of a shocker but it's necessary to set the tone of the book.
Comment #3: Thursday, October, 1, 2009 at 09:18:15
I listened to this book and thought it worked really well in audio form. I loved the way each character had a different voice and was instantly recognisable. I think I'd have struggled to read this book as the number of characters would have confused me. Did you find it hard to remember who was speaking at any one time?
Comment #4: Friday, October 2, 2009 at 18:12:01
With the exception of characters directly involved in the scandal, the rest only appear once to give their testimony. Since the focus is mostly one versions of what happened, and the gossip around it instead of on character development, the approach of using many different voices works very well. I didn't find the jump from character to character at all confusing. Shreve made sure to make it obvious when it was a major character testifying.
Comment #5: Friday, October, 2, 2009 at 18:24:27
I love books that show how just one moment or one decision change a life or lives. Glad you liked this one.
Comment #6: Friday, October 2, 2009 at 18:21:43
I liked so much I ended up buying her latest novel, A Change in Altitude.
Comment #7: Tuesday, October, 13, 2009 at 16:06:01
I, too, thought the many voices added a great depth (and breadth) to this story.
I'll be interested to see what you think of CHANGES IN ALTITUDE; I haven't picked that one up yet.
Comment #8: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 20:51:21
Yes... Testimony certainly has debpth and breadth. I am currently savoring Changes in Altitude. I'm intentionally reading it slowly. It's very good!
Comment #9: Wednesday, November, 4, 2009 at 20:52:58
I agree Shreve did a great job with the different voices, though this wasn't my favorite of her novels. Thanks for linking to my review!
Comment #10: Monday, November 9, 2009 at 00:18:44
You're welcome re the review link. It wasn't my favorite of her novels either but it was much better than I was expecting. It also earned my respect for her range as an author.