Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I had mixed feelings about Testimony by Anita Shreve as I was reading. This book was reflective of Shreve's general writing style which is different -- it's often intriguing but tends to focus on aspects of the story that aren't necessarily what's expected. I think those who love her books will not be disappointed, but those who do not like the style of her writing might not find this one any different.

Testimony opens up with the character of Mike Bordwin, the headmaster of Avery Academy, a private New England high school, as he watches a scandalous, teenage sex tape involving multiple students. This tape has been located after other students have started viewing it on the internet. He describes what he sees in detail. Some readers may feel uncomfortable with the content of this detail based on their own comfort level. Since I deal with these types of details on a regular basis at work, I didn't think much of it, but others might find it offensive.

The rest of the book brings in a multitude of other characters that explain their reaction or involvement to the situation and how it later affected them. In the end I decided it was interesting to have had the thoughts of so many characters, but at first it was a little chaotic. You hear from the headmaster, all the students involved, a roommate, a girlfriend, a teammate, all the parents, and a reporter. A few things perpetuated the confusion -- each of the characters' chapters was written in a different point of view and from varying time frames. For instance, the chapters about the headmaster, Mike, were written in third person sometimes from the time of the scandal and sometimes in looking back from 2 years after the incident. Other techniques were used such as first person narration, second person narration, and in another, a character is speaking to only one other specific character. And some of these characters were speaking as though they were being interviewed years after the fact. Other than a new chapter labeled with the name of the character, there was no other transition.

When I say Shreve focuses on unexpected aspects of the story I mean that she goes more into the backgrounds of each of the individual characters in ways that might not necessarily seem to be related to the main plot in the story. That tends to be more the focus of her novels than anything else, I think. I did enjoy getting to know some of the characters more than others -- it was interesting to get into the minds of the ones I enjoyed. I don't know if it was the intent to be a little confusing up until the end or not; nevertheless, my thoughts were appeased once it clicked how everything went together and what the chronology of the entire situation was. I thought "oohhhhh. ok. well that was good." LOL. I also enjoyed the sneak peak into the life in a private boarding school.

In all, I enjoyed the book and I think there were some important issues discussed. (Realistically, I don't think the criminal aspect of it would have been anywhere near how it was in the book, but at a personal level, yeah maybe). I liked how even though the writing was fairly simple, there was still some level of profundity. I'm going to leave off with a quote from the book that I think illustrates this well.

"I don't know where the shame went. I guess the alcohol takes it away. I guess that's the point of drinking, to take all the feelings and thoughts and morals away until you are just a body doing what a body will do."


NY Book Cafe said...

Hi Jenny,

So funny you read this book...I recently picked up a copy of Light on Snow. One of her older works but supposed to be very good! Great review!

Elisabeth said...

Hey Jenny - Thanks for stopping by my blog. Feel free to do so & comment at will!

Interesting reading your review of Testimony. Also, I really liked Shadow of the Wind - you must read. And yes, sometimes I find myself choosing books like I choose wine - if the label is interesting enough, then hopefully what's inside is too! (Often I'm disappointed...)

Nice 'meeting' you & good luck on your novel!

Tina said...

Great review!! I read this as well, I didnt like the back and forth of the writing and I didnt connect with any character. I really like The Pilots Wife but this not so much.....

okbolover said...

great review! this one's on my list too (you noticed nearly all books I comment on are on my list? har har) glad you liked the book. It sounds rather "meh" to me but I'll give it a try.

Jenny said...

Jennifer, I read Light on Snow last year (I think) and I liked it!

Thanks Elisabeth! Yes, I will definitely get around to Shadow of the Wind hopefully soon.

Tina, I honestly cannot remember if I've read The Pilot's Wife, lol! That was back in the day before I kept track, and I remember wanting to but don't know if I did. I agree with the not connecting with anyone in this book, though.

Okbolover, I completely understand... my tbr is never ending, lol! I did have mixed feelings about this book. I partly thought it was good and the other part of me thought it was 'meh' too.

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