Before I get started, I just want to say that I am a big fan of Anita Shreve. She’s right up there with Jodi Picoult in my book of great women writers tackling uncomfortable issues in current events. Having said that, I was very disappointed in Testimony.
Testimony is the story of a sex tape scandal at a private school in Vermont. The story is told from several, somewhat disjointed, perspectives. That is my first problem with this book. There were simply too many perspectives. I think that the story would have been more compelling had Shreve focused on two or three perspectives rather than including the perspectives of all the major players in the story, as well as some characters who were only marginally involved in the whole sordid story.
The plot is extremely predictable. A scandalous tape showing a freshman girl having sex with three senior boys is discovered by a member of the faculty. The tape is passed to the headmaster, who watches it, is appropriately horrified, and goes about dealing with the whole thing in a poorly reasoned, inappropriate fashion. The whole thing reminds me somewhat of the Penn State scandal of the past year. In attempting to keep the matter within the walls of the school, the headmaster actually ends up making the whole thing worse for everyone involved. The tape and the school’s handling of it are plastered all over the internet, print, and TV media. The boys involved are arrested, the girl changes her name and leaves the state. The headmaster is relieved of his position. Blah, blah, blah.
I might have been able to overlook this predictability had the characters drawn me in. as it was, I really only cared about one of the characters in the whole story. Silas was one of the students involved in the video, but he stands apart from the other boys involved, as well as the totally selfish and irresponsible adults in the story. He is a truly good kid, a scholarship student, and a star on the basketball team. While his status as a sports star might have usually caused a knee-jerk dislike of Silas for me, Shreve’s handling of his perspective actually made me care. His contribution to the story is a set of ramblings that he writes to his girlfriend in the aftermath of the whole thing. He is just so raw and ashamed, not caring about anything except the fact that he has hurt her and feels that he can never be deserving of her love again. What is so terribly sad about Silas’ situation is that his involvement in the drunken video-taped orgy is his way of coping with finding out earlier in the day that his mother was cheating on his father, by walking in on them together, no less.
But mostly, I was just annoyed with the poor handling of the whole situation by the adults involved. It seemed like the only people willing to take responsibility for what happened were a couple of the boys involved. Everyone else was too busy covering their own asses and actually making things worse. And in that way the story did ring true. That’s a major problem in our society today. No one wants to be a grown-up anymore. We’re always blaming someone else. As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help by wonder what the story would have been like if the people responsible had stepped up and said, “Yes, I messed up. What can I do now to set things right?” But people don’t do that. And since I didn’t care about most of the characters in this story, I am simply annoyed and saddened at the state of our culture, that, sadly, this story renders quite accurately. Yet, I maintain my earlier statement of being disappointed in Testimony, as with Shreve’s work I usually care about the characters, and am left with a feeling of having experienced something that may be painful, but is ultimately an empowering experience. With Testimony, I was plain disappointed in everyone involved.