Feb 22, 2009

[TSS] Book Review: Testimony - Anita Shreve

When TESTIMONY by Anita Shreve came out last October there was so much talk about it all over the internet. I’d never read any of her books and I was anxious to get the book and read it. However, I only got a chance to do so last month and I kind of feel like I’m the last person to read it.

For those who don’t know the premise, the story is set in Vermont at a prestigious private school during the winter months. One fateful night after sneaking liquor onto campus and getting massively drunk, three male students and one very young female student made choices that would forever change not only their lives but the lives of so many people, possibly even the whole small town they lived in.

The book starts explosively, getting right into what created so much havoc for these four students and ultimately their community. You don’t have to wait long to find out what has happened. The story unfolds through individual accounts being told by a researcher from Vermont University two years later. Each person has a different perspective of what happened that night and the subsequent consequences with respect to their lives and that of their families.

What this book shows is how what appears to be a simple act by one or two people can become somewhat of a chain reaction which could prove devastating for others around them. Further, the person committing this act may not even be aware of the effect it had on others right away, or maybe not ever.

In the story, we meet three young men with great potential, all of whom were brought up differently, and one very young girl who, depending on your stance, is either a tragic victim or a willing participant. We also meet adults - parents, teachers, family friends - who also play a huge role. Each of these people handle the outcome very differently with varying emotions. Among them are defiance, disbelief, guilt, embarrassment and in some, overwhelming shame. But what lead each to this act?

I don't want to go into too much detail about the story itself because I don't want to give anything away for people who haven't yet read it. Personally, I’ve never read a book quite like this one. Having read many reviews, I was prepared for what I already knew was a shocking storyline. I appreciated Anita Shreve’s bold writing and her development of the story. However, what took some getting used to was the abrupt changes of narration from chapter to chapter, although they were not listed as chapters per se, but rather different conversations. Each one was strikingly different - meaning some were told in the first person, some in the third and then some perspectives were as if the narrator was talking to the particular individual. It was hard for me to get used to. That, along with the very short ‘chapters’ made for a choppy, staccato-like writing style. There was no ebb and flow for me. Unfortunately, this left me feeling disconnected from the characters and not really ever bonding with them. I can’t even say that I liked the characters very much, with one exception. I did like the character of Silas, who I felt was the most innocent of all.
That being said, I did enjoy the book and I’m glad I read it. Anita Shreve is known for her bold writing and to-the-point storylines. Since this was my first book of hers to read, I’m looking forward to reading her other books for comparison. I have on my nightstand ALL HE EVER WANTED and I also want to read THE PILOT’S WIFE, which I hear is very good . Just because I didn’t love this book, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it and look forward to more from her. This was just a very different book for me.
Have you read this book? And if so, where do you stand? Is it one of those that you either love or hate? Or is is more complicated than that? I’d be interested to know. Here are just a few other reviews by fellow bloggers you might like to read:

The Book Lady’s Blog
She Is Too Fond of Books
Peeking Between the Pages
Book-Fan Mary
She Reads and Reads

Author: Anita Shreve
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: October 2008
Pages: 320
Rating: Liked it but didn’t love it


  1. Thank you for the great review. I have this one sitting here in my immediate TBR pile waiting its turn. I have read one Anita Shreve book before, Fortune's Rock, which I really liked. This one sounds even more up my alley.

  2. Great review - I definitely would like to read this. I have The Pilot's Wife upstairs, waiting to be read. I haven't read any of Anita Shreve's books yet, so looking forward to it.

  3. I did enjoy this book. The writing style worked for me since it was supposed to be interviews with the parties involved. I know the subject matter has turned some people off.

  4. Hi Lisa, I just gave you the Your blog is fabulous award! Stop by and pick up the logo

  5. Great review of a book I really enjoyed. I found it very different from her other novels. It was a tragic situation really.

    you should read The Weight of Water before All He Ever Wanted, I think ... there's kind of a continuation there.

  6. Kaye - Thanks so much for the award!!

    Strumpet - thanks for the tip on The Weight of Water - I had no idea.

  7. Great review Lisa. I felt the same as you that while I did enjoy the book I never really felt connected with anyone. I would have preferred a story type setting instead of the choppiness. The Pilot's Wife is really good. I'll be reading Resistance by her for the War Challenge soon.

  8. I agree with you about Silas. I felt badly for him. And re your disconnection to the characters, me too but I didn't want to feel a connection, you know? It was a very different reading experience for me but I'm glad I read it. Good review!

  9. How can I say I "liked" a book when the subject matter was so awful?.... but I did. At first I was put off by the writing style but then I got used to it. I thought the book was cleverly done.

    My all-time favorite of Shreve's is an early book, "Resistance" - very different for her. It is set during WW II and takes place in Europe.

  10. I've read everything by her, and this wasn't one of my favorites, but I still thought it was a very powerful story. All He Ever Wanted and The Pilot's Wife are two good choices of hers.

  11. This one's on my shelf, but I haven't got to it yet. I love Anita Shreve, but it'll be hard for her to top Resistance or Sea Glass in my opinion. Those have long been my favorite Shreve books. I guess I'll have to wait and see. Thanks for the review!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  12. I'm currently reading "All He Ever Wanted" If any of you are also reading it, I would love to hear how you are doing, meanwhile, I'm feeling pretty bored... and I'm only half way through the book.

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  17. I sincerely love your review.
    Of all Shreve's books, 'The Pilot's Wife'and 'Testimony' captivated me.
    I admire Shreve's style of writing in introducing the characters by their testimonies of the scandal.This style definitely whets the readers'hunger for the book.
    The use of phrases and words such as 'radiation sickness', horrifying,pot of boiling water, show the extent of damages the small cassette will do to the rest of the characters.
    I was more shatrered when Silas died. Agree with you, he is a victim of situations.
    The puppy love of Anna and Mike vanishes into thin air.Why?


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I look forward to hearing from you again soon!