Testimony (Shreve) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews 
Shreve, consummate craftsman and frequent provocateur, is on fire in her latest novel, a mesmerizing read centering on a sex scandal at a prestigious Vermont prep school....Shreve views all of the characters, even the most flawed, with a good deal of compassion, revealing the heartbreaking consequences of a single reckless act.
Bette-Lee Fox - Booklist


Shreve's novels (Body Surfing; The Weight of Water) benefit from propulsive plots, and her mixed latest, with its timely theme of debauchery among children of privilege, does not lack in this regard. The first paragraph foreshadows a tragedy in which three marriages are destroyed, the lives of three students at a private school in Vermont are ruined, and death claims an innocent victim. The precipitating event is a sex tape involving three members of the boys' basketball team and a freshman girl. Beginning with an account of the debacle by the Avery School's then headmaster, and segueing to the voices of the participants in the orgy, plus their parents and others touched by the scandal, the narrative explores the widening consequences of a single event. Shreve's character delineation is astute, and the novel's moral questions—ranging from the boys' behavior to the headmaster's breach of legal ethics to the guilt of those involved in the death—are salient if heavy-handed, while the female characters are "wicked" in the way women have always been stereotypically portrayed. The novel is clever, but the revolving cast of narrators often feels predictable and forced, keeping the novel on the near side of credible.
Publishers Weekly


Recounting a student sex scandal at a prestigious Vermont private academy, this explosive novel from Shreve (Body Surfing) is more transfixing than a multicar pileup on the interstate. Told from the perspectives of the students involved, the school administrator, the parents, and numerous bystanders, the story keeps unraveling as it slingshots back and forth in time. At each revelation, readers keep hoping that things will turn out differently, that there will be survivors, despite the carnage before their eyes. Yet that one night can never be undone: "A single action can cause a life to veer off in a direction it was never meant to go." Shreve arrows in on many targets—underage drinking, instant exposure via the Internet, familial expectations, youthful insecurities, and peer pressure, among them—as she flawlessly weaves a tale that is mesmerizing, hypnotic, and compulsive. No one walks away unscathed, and that includes the reader. Highly recommended.
Library Journal


A sex scandal at a Massachusetts prep school seen through the eyes of students, teachers, parents and anyone else of even peripheral relevance. Shreve (Body Surfing, 2007, etc.) offers snapshot sketches within a framing device involving a researcher's interviews. Although the scandal—three of the school's basketball stars caught on tape being sexually serviced by a freshman girl—is almost tame by current real-life scandal standards, it is understandably life-shaking to those involved. Headmaster Mike Bordwin's attempts to contain the situation backfire when the girl's outraged parents call the police. His hard-won career disintegrates, as does his already shaky marriage. Those losses are nothing compared to his private sense of guilt; Bordwin knows Silas, a gifted scholarship student, was part of the filmed party only because he was very drunk, and he was drunk because he'd caught his mother in bed with Bordwin that morning. A sensitive moral innocent, Silas is horrified at his own behavior. Unable to face his girlfriend, he spends a cold New England night outside writing an apology and freezes to death. Naturally his mother, a devout Catholic, blames herself and her adulterous affair for the loss of her beloved only child. The other boys' mothers have their own guilt. Ellen sent Rob to boarding school to protect him from the very temptations to which he succumbed. Expelled, Rob now loses his early admission to Brown. Michelle, who has long sensed dark tendencies in James, now wishes she had been a stronger parent. James, who calls himself J.Dot, is a shallow unrepentant party animal. He blames the girl. As does Shreve, who paints "Sienna" as a 14-year-old vixen with no qualms about pretending she's the victim, although she purposefully set out to seduce the boys, particularly J.Dot. Afterward she moves on to a new school and, one suspects, new victims. Thoughtful Rob is the only one with a genuinely positive outlook on his future. Slick but lacking depth.
Kirkus Reviews




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