Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Read Well

I've finished reading "Testimony" by Anita Shreve, a novel about the aftermath of a sex scandal at a private high school in Vermont. Each chapter is told from a viewpoint from a character in the story--the students, a few parents, a dining hall worker, an administrator, a newpaper reporter, a sheriff and a researcher. Shreve accomplishes the difficult task of finding a different voice and angle for each one, as well as letting each have information that others in the story don't have so the reader puts together the puzzle as he reads along.

The story begins with a flashback of a school headmaster going into shock as he watches a pornographic tape of three of his senior basketball star players with promising futures have sex with an underage freshman girl. I didn't want to read it, and Shreve means it to be that way. The consequences are devastating as well, the sins of the students as well as their parents cause a chain of events that haunt you all the way to the end. The video's subjects all have hearts and souls, and you will get to know each one. Some you will like, some you might not.

Through her dissection of a Vermont small town and its prep school, Anita Shreve is making a statement about the society at large and about the lack of character and sexual morals in America's youth these days. She is particularly alarmed that teen drinking is out of control and that little is done about it. "Testimony" is meant to be a wake up call, that there are more important things than success and prestige for American teens to aspire to, things like decency, honor and responsibility. Perhaps these would be good for American adults as well since the compass is set by the older generations.

As for me, I am tired of listening to how small town life is best to raise children in. I grew up in one where everyone knew a little to a lot about everyone else. Shreve gets it right in how gossip and rumors are spread--everyone has an opinion based on very little knowledge. In a way, our media is the same way. We hear a ton about nothing. Small town life can make most people watch their backs carefully and present a facade instead of the true self.

Then again you meet people like Silas and his father Owen who are real, caring and honest--people I remember meeting while growing up and wishing I could be like. Anita Shreve also gets it right that the ones who seem to have the most to lose end up paying the highest price. And that a sin harbored in one's heart doesn't just hurt you but also the ones you love.

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