Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Testimony" by Anita Shreve (audio)

I have just finished the audio tape version of this book, and I am sitting here with a sick, empty and frightened feeling in the pit of my stomach. At the same time, I am also filled with a sense of awe for this author that has managed to take a fairly oft-publicized (the use of the word "common" feels wrong) tragedy and rip it wide open for all to see.

This novel documents, in a very unique way, the events that led up to, occured during, and followed in the aftermath of a very dark Saturday evening at an exclusive private boarding school in the northeast. We have heard these types of stories on the news, so this is not new territory. Several very drunk boys (all 18 and over), a very drunk, young promiscuous girl, and someone holding a camera. Why did this happen? How could this happen? Two of the three boys are good students with promises of Ivy League colleges and scholarships, coming from good families, one with a serious girlfriend. Well, I'm not sure we get a real good answer, because in reality, they just aren't there. But we hear from everyone involved...from the parents, from the "participants", the friends, the girlfriend, the headmaster of the school, even the school cafeteria lady. It is all presented to us as a combination of diary-type musings, statements of fact, or as if these individuals are being interviewed. It is uncanny. You get raw emotions, gut-reactions, all with individual, unique voices. You slip inside the minds of different mothers that feel she has contributed somehow to the downfall of her son. You hear the thoughts of fathers that are in total denial or cannot be in the same room with his son. You hear from the "victim" who attempts to reinvent herself in a different part of the country and blithely justifies her actions on the night in question. Yet, you hear a different perspective of this girl's actions from her roommate.

The effects of the incident in question are catastrophic. Lives are blown apart, some destroyed forever. One thing that I found most interesting as I was listening...with the exception of the girl, who I found to be very self-absorbed and annoying, there are no villains or heroes. When you hear of these stories on the news, it is easy to take a side and say "the boys took advantage of a young girl", or adversely, "the girl asked for it". In this story, when you are allowed to reside in the mind of each character in the story, it just isn't that black and white. Your heart breaks for each and every one of them. Personally, being the parent of a pre-pubescent son and a pubescent daughter, I am terrified at the thought of how bad judgement can implode everything you hold dear.

I'd also like to make a special note about experiencing this novel on audio tape. I've listened to many audio tapes. Up to this point, all of them but one have been a single reader that assumes different accents and tones to portray different characters. In "Testimony" there are a cast of readers, each with their own character. The effect is amazing. If you enjoy a book in this medium now and again, or have never tried it but think you might, this would be the one to pick up.


Literary Feline said...

I won't bel listening to the audio book of this one, but I do plan to read the book. I've heard wonderful things about it--and from your review of the audio version, it sounds very powerful. Thanks for the great review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I am sure the book is just as impactful. Shreve is a great writer; truly a hats off to any author that can freak me out as much as this one did!