Let’s take a look at the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Testimony by Anita Shreve, from a writer’s perspective.
This post contains spoilers.
Testimony* by Anita Shreve
(*Amazon Affiliate link)
Summary: When the headmaster of Avery Academy receives a video of three of his older male students engaged in sexual acts with an underage girl, he is shocked. What will be the consequences for the students involved and for the school, which is already struggling? How did this happen and what should he do about it?
This novel has an unusual format in many ways. First of all, instead of the standard rising conflict, the author presents the highest level of drama — the most intense scene — in the first chapter. All the following chapters cover either the acts that gave rise to the event or the results from it. It is like a mirror is shattered in the first scene and the rest of the book is about trying to reassemble the pieces.
The story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, some of whom are closer to the sex scandal than others. At times the diversity of viewpoints is excessive and unnecessary, for example when Natalie the lunch lady at the school or the town boy named Daryl, who sells alcohol to minors, get their say.
To her credit, Anita Shreve uses an unnamed researcher from the university to instigate some of the “testimony” and tie together the pieces with the finest of threads. The book might have been stronger, however, if the researcher was more concrete and pulled the pieces together more tightly.
Each chapter also varies in point of view. For example, the first chapter with Mike the headmaster is in third person. The second scene (by Ellen, Rob’s mom) is told in second person. Sienna, the underage girl, narrates in first person.
Because Anita Shreve tells the story from multiple perspectives, it isn’t clear who the protagonist is. The reader learns the most about one of the boys named Silas; what his motives were and what happened to him.
A case could also be made that Mike, the headmaster of the school who views the video, is the main character, especially since he’s the character we meet first. On the other hand, his actions also instigated much of what happened to Silas.
The setting is a private school in Vermont. It adds atmosphere, but the story could have been placed anywhere and still had the same impact.
A test for the greatness of any novel is how well it remains relevant over time. Unfortunately, from the perspective of the #MeToo era, how Shreve treats the three young males who get drunk and sexually assault an underage girl seems tipped towards sympathy for the boys. The girl is presented at times as a willing participant, or at the very least less of a victim, than the boys. That perspective feels outdated.
Overall, although the construction of the novel was intriguing, the themes didn’t work for me. I had to work to finish the novel because I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters.
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What are we reading next?
If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.
The next book is number 53. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (2011) –
Discussion begins August 20, 2018