Book Review: Testimony, by Anita Shreve

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 § 11

Testimony by Anita Shreve
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages

Back Bay Books
With Film Version? None
Number of Times Read: Once.

I am a die-hard Anita Shreve fanatic.

Ever since I discovered Seaglass seven years ago, I've been craving for Shreve's novels. There's something unique about her writing, which sets her apart from the other authors. I'd like to think that it's because she tackles issues relevant to what is really happening nowadays. 

Testimony, which I purchased a month ago, is exactly what I'm talking about now. The issues tackled in the story are teenage sexuality, the deleterious effect of alcohol and the possible disasters that the Internet could incur-- specifically, circulating sex videos, which are, up to now, on the rage.

The story is an introspective look at a private school community blown apart by one scandalous incident. A video is posted online showing a sexual encounter between three male seniors and one female freshman. From the students themselves to their parents, and to the staff members of the school, the repercussions are lasting.

Teenage sexuality and the consequences of a single reckless act seem to be the themes of Testimony.
Teenagers are a mixture of raging hormones, limitless energy and physical activities. Add curiosity, peer pressure and even parental pressure to the equation and the kid explores uncharted territory: drugs, alcohol, and sex.  If they wanna experiment, they will. It will be a futile attempt to stop them. The rational thing to do now is to sit them down and have the TALK. I think sex, drugs and alcohol are a family matter, because these issues can never be tackled quite effectively within the four walls of a classroom.

I'll move on to the consequences of in-the-moment decisions, specifically, the single reckless act which caused such a turmoil in the story. Why did the teenagers do what they did in the video? Why did they let someone document what they were doing, and why did J. Dot post the video in YouTube? There is proof that the teenagers had been drinking before they did what they did. So alcohol could have been the trigger, right? But, through their attestations, clearly, they didn't know exactly why they did the act. Sure there are lots of contributing factors, but there is no concrete 'why'. Now, I'm, like, 'been there, done that.' There are times when I stop thinking and just start acting out. I am aware that it is something wrong, and that I shouldn't do it. But still, I go ahead and do it, irregardless of the guilt that's lurking on my mind, not thinking of the consequences, because, well, I simply stopped thinking.  After that, the regrets, the questions-- Was it worth it? Why did I even do it? In the case of the teenagers in the story: 'What will happen to me now?' 'What will my family/girlfriend say?' That's the saddest part I think. People stop thinking, becoming selfish, not caring if their actions would affect the lives of other people.

But life can not be undone. A single reckless act may result to dire consequences, but it doesn't necessarily have to ruin a person's life.

The character I had the most sympathy for is Noelle, the girlfriend of Silas (who is one of the teenagers involved in the scandal). I can't fathom how a guy can claim that he loves his girl so much, the next minute he's romping another girl live on a video. Really cruel. So callous. But as one of the characters would put it, there are opportunities-- once-in-a-lifetime opportunities-- that are hard to pass up. It might never happen again if he doesn't seize it. But I think a guy who already has an amazing girlfriend has no business with that kind of opportunity.

I like how the story is told in multiple voices. I always have this keen appreciation of stories told by narrators. Also, it is told in different points of view. I ask myself, Why is that? So I made a chart listing the different points of views of the various characters-- there are fifteen or so-- in the story, and I came to these:

♦ Most of the characters, including the four teenagers in the sex tape, and the girlfriend of one of the teenage boys, are narrating from the first person point of view, because they are the ones who suffer the most from the scandal. They need to express their emotions, need someone to talk to, and, in the case of the four teenagers, need to say something in their defense. I think their individual expressions would not have been effectively achieved if their version of events is told using the second or third person point of view. At the moment, they are self-centered, and rightfully so. Hence, the constant use of "I".

♦ The author used the third person on the characters-- the grown men-- who are unlikely to express their real emotions. The third person surely can not know what's inside their heart or mind, right?

♦ The only character who uses the second person is the mother of one of the teenage boys and, I think, that indicates that she can't accept, or refuses to accept that her son had done what he did. Hence, the constant use of the word "You" instead of "I'.

This approach of using multiple voices made it possible for the testimony of all the characters to be voiced out. A single narrator may not be privy to certain information that are critical to the story.

Most of Anita Shreve's novels depict human frailty and weakness-- uncontrollable lust, deception, violence, the easy giving-in-to-temptation. I love these themes. Okay, not the violence bit. I don't know exactly why I'm reading these kinds of stories. Maybe it's because of the fact that every one of Shreve's novels are national bestsellers and most are award winners.. Or maybe because reading these kinds of stories makes me feel that somehow I am not alone. I am not the only one doing this or that crime. I am not the only one feeling guilty for feeling this or that emotion. Yes, it is fiction, I know, but it is fiction based on reality. The things depicted in the book are real. The characters are not vampires or robots or talking fish. Neither are they depicted as unrealistic happily-ever-after stories. Reading her novels, it's like, 'OMG this happened to someone I know!'

Okay. So. How to end this? I am a very very big fan of Anita Shreve, and so far, Testimony is one of her best. I collect and have read all of her novels except for the latest one-- Rescue, which unfortunately is not yet available in the Philippines. Anyone who has a copy? I am willing to leap bounds and wash your dishes for a month if you can just give me a copy. (I don't want an ebook!) (;

More on Anita Shreve.

Quotable Quotes:

"A single action can cause a life to veer off in a direction it was never meant to go."

"And so a person can never promise to love someone forever, because you never know what might come up, what terrible thing the person you love might do."

"If one has a good reputation and trusted, the rules can be bent to accommodate."

"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.."

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§ 11 Response to “Book Review: Testimony, by Anita Shreve”

  • this is a great review! i'm definitely interested to read this now.

  • mayen says:

    First, i want to admire your new template. I wasn't able to tell you before how nice it is. Very fitting to what you usually write, book reviews.

    I always love your reviews.Because of you, I am now visiting Book for Less often. You draw me back from reading books again. thank you!

  • Reading you totally takes me to another world. Have I ever told you that? I'm not sure.

    I'm feeling bad for Noelle in the story. Life needs guys straight out of beautiful romantic comedies- the unerring ones, don't you think? Hmph.

    I like your conclusion on the narrators. :) Very thought-provoking.

  • Anonymous says:

    i have read this! the video scandal made me curious man it must be fun to watch it, that girl sienna she's a mean little ho

  • MG says:

    hehehe, nanibago ako sa theme, kala ko naligaw ako. hehehe.. again nice review karen. lalo kang gumagaling. hehehe. ^_^ mas gusto ko kung video. ewan ko b.heha

  • jtorres says:

    karen! pahiram nyan! hiramin ko after ung the time travelers wife!

  • Anonymous says:

    i havent read this book of anita shreve yet. your review makes the book sound good enough to read.:)

  • Anonymous says:

    why not:)

  • Anonymous says:

    thanks for the review. i came here after just finishing he book. Regarding Silar, you dont think that what he witnessed that afternoon in his home somewhat exuses his conduct that evening? i mean, the author goes through a lot of trouble to explain that everything he was doing that evening was out of the ordinary. is it easy for you to image that he should still have functioned normally in one sphere of his life (the one with Noella) and be exused for going crazy in others?

  • kayren says:

    maybe yes, maybe not.. the incident that he had witnessed at home caused him too much anguish. i dunno. if i were him, maybe just maybe i wouldnt have done what he did.. but really, its hard to put oneself in someone else's shoes.