Testimony

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Bestselling author Anita Shreve takes us into a world upended by the consequences of a single action.

At Avery Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school, the headmaster finds himself in possession of a videotape — a disaster in a small package. More shocking than the sexual acts recorded on the tape are the ages of the students. One girl is just fourteen.

A Pandora’s box, the tape unleashes a storm of shame and recrimination throughout the small community. The men and women, teenagers and adults, involved in the scandal speak out to relate the events of that night and their aftermath. Mike Bordwin, the headmaster, struggles to contain the scandal before it destroys the school forever. Silas Quinney, a well-liked local boy, grapples with the tremendous consequences of his mistakes. Anna, his mother, confronts her own forbidden temptations. And Sienna, an enigmatic and troubled young woman, tries to put her past behind her.

For all the tape reveals, it provokes more questions than it answers. How could this have happened? Who is to blame? And can the fallout be contained or will the mistakes of one foolish moment ruin the futures of everyone involved? As the chorus of voices rises to a crescendo, it reveals the surprising truth of what happened that night, and how the lives touched by these events will be forever transformed.

Writing with a pace and intensity surpassing even her greatest work, Anita Shreve brings us a gripping emotional drama with the impact of a thriller. No one more compellingly explores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming innocents, the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, or the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.

Characters

Watch a video of Anita Shreve discussing Testimony

Praise

“Shreve’s novels benefit from propulsive plots, and Testimony does not lack in this regard. Her character delineation is astute and the novel’s moral questions are salient. The novel is clever.”
–Publishers Weekly

“Gripping and provoking…. Testimony will break your heart even as you race on to the next page…. Shreve deftly moves beyond the headlines and into the hearts of the students and, even more clearly, their families…. Beautifully crafted insights make the most of Shreve’s unique style, a conversational blend of the poetic and the searing.”
–Jennifer Roolf Laster, Houston Chronicle

“Deeply personal…. About as raw as a piece of fiction can get…. Shreve takes the reader inside the minds of everyone involved…. It’s an ambitious narrative technique, but Shreve nails it and makes you understand and even sympathize…. There’s no protagonist in the novel, just as there is no antagonist. Shreve’s too accomplished a writer to portray life that simply.”
–Kate Ward, Entertainment Weekly

“Shreve sets us down in a swirling drama that ruins lives, ends one, all stemming from a night of drunken abandon at a prep school…. She complicates the lives of her characters with virtues and faults that make them human.”
–Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News

“Contrasting the sweetness of young love with the primal recklessness of lust, Shreve paints a chilling portrait of how bad decisions in brief moments can ruin lives…. Shreve seamlessly weaves the ‘testimony’ of some twenty characters affected by the event, unveiling layers of secrets.”
–Joanna Powell, People

“A full and heartbreaking story… Shreve delivers convincing, complicated characters, giving each of them a voice…. She asks us to share in asking ‘What if?’ as the players in this drama struggle to regain the world they knew before a brief encounter involving alcohol, sex, and deep longings they could not name.”
–Meredith Hall, Boston Globe

“A suspenseful tale…. Shreve doesn’t sift through her characters’ ethical dilemmas in order to point fingers, or to wag them. Instead, she’s out to show how one foolish deviation on the part of seemingly well-intentioned people can snowball into a headline-making tragedy that derails the lives of all involved.”
—Julie Vadnal, Elle

“Written with the force and speed of a thriller, Shreve’s book plays off contemporary concerns with teenage morality, adultery, and the wages of sin, which never seem to be fully paid.”
—Carole Goldberg, Hartford Courant

“Contrasting adults and teens, teachers and parents, faculty and the blue-collar locals who work at Avery Academy, Shreve nicely captures the insular, often claustrophobic dynamic of boarding school life…. But Testimony is not really about sex, or the loss of innocence…. Shreve’s theme seems to be the shifting boundary between adolescence and adulthood…. She is at her best when she gets inside the heads of teenagers.”
—Erika Schickel, Los Angeles Times

“Anita Shreve turns the stuff of tabloid sensationalism into a tensely wrought novel about adolescent recklessness and its repercussions. From the first gripping pages Testimony criticizes our lingering appetite for human folly…. A sense of voyeurism lies at the heart of the story. In this sense, Shreve creates a though-provoking tension: Testimony simultaneously engrosses readers and challenges them to look away.”
—Chelsea Bauch, TimeOut New York

“Riveting…. Shreve, consummate craftsman and frequent provocateur, is on fire in her latest novel, a mesmerizing read…. Most of this affecting novel’s appeal lies in the way it so carefully fills in the nuances often missing from the headlines…. 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.”
—Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist

“The queen of domestic drama offers a sex, lies, and videotape thriller set at a prep school. As scandal erupts, many are implicated, and blame is tantalizingly hard to fix.”
Good Housekeeping

“A narrative structure and a sense of place and character as delicate as a spider’s web…. The campus novel has often been thought to be a peculiarly male preserve, but its subtlest exponents have tended to be female: Mary McCarthy, Alison Lurie, Donna Tartt, and now Anita Shreve…. It is worth comparing Testimony with Ian McEwan’s over-praised Atonement.”
–Brian Morton, Sunday Herald

“An elegant and addictive novel about e way our lives can be shaped forever by one event…. Shreve’s prose is spare and powerful, and she excels in showing how two people might perceive and interpret the same event in a contrasting way.”
—Vanessa Curtis, Scotland on Sunday

“Shreve is careful to fill in the nuances that often elude deadline reportage…. She plumbs the more unsavory facets of teenage experience yet never loses sight of her characters’ humanity.”
—Bill Thompson, Charleston Post and Courier

“Anita Shreve is a phenomenon…. The prose is undemonstrative, yet insidiously accomplished. For some, it may be reassuring that an author who can command a readership as large as Shreve’s should choose to write a novel of this sort. On the surface, it is a brave, uncompromising choice for someone occasionally criticized as being a ‘woman’s writer.’ Yet I think that Testimony goes further than this. It is so unforgiving a panoply of human frailty as to be misanthropic.”
—Charlie Hill, New Statesman

“Using a straightforward and powerful prose style, Anita Shreve explores a number of thought-provoking and timely themes…. Testimony is a searing and powerful indictment of a society that, in many ways, has lost its moral compass, and for that, everyone pays a price.”
—Eleanor Bukowsky, MostlyFiction.com

“A haunting of the consequences of recklessness:. Paced like a thriller, Testimony sustains its intensity to the end.”
—Carmela Ciuraru, Hallmark

“Explosive:. Shreve flawlessly weaves a tale that is mesmerizing, hypnotic, and compulsive. No one walks away unscathed, and that includes the reader. Highly recommended.”
—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

“Shreve is a true storyteller…. Don’t miss this one.”
Kansas City Star

Excerpt

It was a small cassette, not much bigger than the palm of his hand, and when Mike thought about the terrible license and risk exhibited on the tape, as well as its resultant destructive power, it was as though the two-by-three plastic package had been radioactive. Which it may as well have been, since it had produced something very like radiation sickness throughout the school, reducing the value of an Avery education, destroying at least two marriages that he knew of, ruining the futures of three students, and, most horrifying of all, resulting in a death. After Kasia brought Mike the tape in a white letter envelope (as if he might be going to mail it to someone!), Mike walked home with it and watched it on his television—an enormously complicated and frustrating task since he first had to find his own movie camera that used similar tapes and figure out how to connect its various cables to the television so that the tape could play through the camera. Sometimes Mike wished he had just slipped the offensive tape into a pot of boiling water, or sent it out with the trash in a white plastic drawstring bag, or spooled it out with a pencil and wadded it into a big mess. Although he doubted he could have controlled the potential scandal, he might have been able to choreograph it differently, possibly limiting some of the damage.

He lay his head back against the sofa and closed his eyes. The house was empty and quiet. He could hear the wind skidding against the windows and, from the kitchen, the sound of ice cubes tumbling in the Viking, recently installed. Tasks now needed to be accomplished, students queried, the Disciplinary Committee convened, and all of this conducted beneath the radar of the press, which would, if they got wind of the story, revel in a private-school scandal. In this, Mike thought that private schools had been unfairly singled out. He doubted that such a tape would have been of any interest to the press had it surfaced at the local regional high school, for example. The tape might have circulated underground, students might have been expelled, and meetings might have been held, yet it was likely that the incident would have been greeted with indifference not only by the local newspaper, the Avery Crier (its editor, Walter Myers, could be talked down from just about any story that might cause embarrassment to local kids and parents), but also by the regional and national press. Mike thought the national media would scoff at the idea that sex and alcohol, even sex and alcohol involving a fourteen-year-old girl in a public-high-school setting, was news of any sort; whereas if the same set of facts, but in a private-school setting, were to pass across the computer screen of a reporter at the Rutland Herald or the Boston Globe, it was entirely possible that the reporter would be dispatched to Avery to find out what was going on. In such a story, there was juice, there was heat, there was blood. There was also, if this tape had been copied in any way, footage. Was it because private schools were held to higher standards, according to which such an incident ought to be nearly unthinkable? Or was it because everyone loved to see the elite (even if that elite involved a local farmer’s son on scholarship) brought down and ridiculed? A little of both, Mike guessed, with emphasis on the latter.

More troubling, however, was the thought of police involvement. Though Mike felt nothing but revulsion when he thought of the Silas and Rob he’d just seen on the tape (boys whom he had previously much respected and even, in Silas’s case, been quite fond of), the idea of them being led away from the administration building in handcuffs was appalling. (Did police routinely handcuff boys suspected of sexual assault, which was what this particular crime, in the state of Vermont, was deemed?) Police in this case meant either Gary Quinney or Bernie Herrmann, neither of whom would find any satisfaction in the arrest; Gary was,after all, Silas’s uncle. Would the boys then appear some months later in the dowager courthouse across the street from the gates of Avery, the building itself smug in its self-righteousness? Mike’s job would be at risk, and any number of teachers who were supposed to be supervising either the dance or the dorm that evening might be fired, for one could not expect the trustees to view the incident and its attendant legal fuss lightly. Would the boys then go to jail, to the Vermont State Prison at Windsor, where almost certainly they would be raped in turn?

Mike reined in his thoughts. He was getting carried away. No, he had to get a grip and act quickly. Three boys were in trouble, and a girl . . . well, presumably, if it did turn out to be a case of sexual assault, the trouble had already occurred to the girl, though the fallout for her might be endless.

Mike got up off the floor and sat on the sofa while he loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, as if increasing blood flow to the brain might help solve his problem. And it was then that the word containment entered his mind. And with that word, moral, ethical, and political choices were made, though Mike would realize the implications of these only later, when it occurred to him that he might have chosen at that moment another word, such as revelation, say, or help.

Copyright © 2008 by Anita Shreve

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