Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: Testimony

Anita Shreve is one of my favorite authors, and I bought Testimony shortly after it was released, but I didn't get aroudn to reading it until now.

Each chapter of this book is written from the perspective of one of the multiple characters.  Most chapters are written in first person, some in third person, and there's even one written in second person.  Each character is giving their testimony of the events that surrounded a sex scandal at a private secondary academy in Vermont.

The problem with this book centers on the sex scandal. It starts when Mike, the principal, is given a videotape that was filmed in one of the dorm rooms.  In the video, a fourteen year-old female student performs oral sex on an eighteen year-old male student, then she has sex with another male student (who is either seventeen or eighteen), while a nineteen year-old males student watches and masterbates.  Everyone appears to be drunk.

Yes, it is statutory rape, and that is a crime, but I just had a really hard time accepting the magnitude of this scandal.  Shreve describes it as so big and receiving so much media attention that Anderson Cooper and Brian Williams types camp out at the school.  One characters recalls that the small town of one thousand doubled in population.

Come on.  Even if the scandal was compounded by the school's attempt to keep it quiet, I don't think a reader can reasonably be expected to believe in all this.  I went to a private boarding academy, and sexual stuff went on all the time.  There were even some crimes committed, and we didn't even get local news attention.

This was disappointing to me, because it really affected my ability to enjoy this book.  What I love about Shreve is how much she can convey with her simple style of writing.  Body Surfing is an excellent example of this.  Also, I just had a hard time connecting with her characters in Testimony.  I didn't feel the emotional connection like I did in Light on Snow, for instance.  This is not one of her best works, in my opinion.  If you've never read Shreve before I would recommend starting with Body Surfing, Light on Snow, Resistance, or Fortune's Rocks.


The Reading Nomad said...

Oh? What is it like in a boarding school?

Lindsey Lou said...

Well, I knew people who had sex in the bathroom stalls, had sex on the gymnastic mats in the gym, received (and gave) oral sex in the school chapel, etc, etc. We even had some lesbian activity in the girls dorm. All in all, I just don't believe that sex at a boarding school would be such a huge scandal.