Before Testimony, the only other Anita Shreve novel I had read was The Pilot’s Wife, which I liked, but didn’t really love. Testimony, on the other hand, left me feeling disgusted with it’s tale of sexual misadventure at a New England boarding school, the tragic events that set the story in motion and the fallout for all those involved.
The narrative begins with Mike Bordwin, Headmaster of Avery Academy, who has received a videotape which shows three male students and a 14-year-old Freshman girl, involved in graphic sex in an Avery dorm room. The unfolding events are told through myriad narrators, each of whom offer their remembrances of and involvement in the scandal, which eventually leads to suspensions, arrests, firings, divorces, and death, within the school itself and in the surrounding community.
I should probably offer a *Trigger Warning* at this point because I feel the need to discuss some of the awkward contrivances Shreve places in the story, all of which made me cringe inwardly as she attempted to make readers feel sorry for the “boys” involved and to place all the blame on the jezebel.
Shreve’s entire construct is set to lead us to believe that four upperclassmen—who should be viewed merely as typical horny teenagers—when presented with an opportunity to have a four-way orgy with a provocative, obviously sexually-experienced though inebriated, underage girl did only what we would expect them to do. They go for it.
The three boys, all basketball players with promising careers, are used to being admired by the younger students, something they are willing to take advantage of. J. Dot, is a PG, which means he is taking a post-senior year to get his grades up and play a final year of HS basketball. James is a senior hoping for a basketball scholarship to college. Silas, who is offered up as the protagonist of the story, is a local boy who’s been offered the chance of a lifetime—to attend Avery Academy on scholarship—both to study and to boost the team to championship potential. I felt manipulated to feel sorry for them because they made one bad decision. Instead, I felt revulsion.
Shreve gives us the convenient excuse that “Sienna,” the girl on the videotape, is a lying vixen who decides to “cry rape” once she has been exposed. In the two chapters in which she speaks, she is written as manipulative and vain, both wise beyond her years and absurdly immature. Fine, it could happen, but why write the character as the exception, not the rule. Experienced or not, she was underage, which legally, makes her unable to consent.
I was flabbergasted at the positive reviews for this book and even more gobsmacked by the vitriol expressed for the character of “Sienna,” who leaves Avery for a new school in Texas, changes her name and seems to experience no residual emotional or psychological damage from the scandal. I really have to question Shreve’s premise here when the reality for a victim of these situations, (as evidenced by Stubenville and more recently Nova Scotia) is non-consensual sex with multiple rapists, followed by weak prosecution by law enforcement, shaming, victim-blaming and serious psychological anguish. It seems incredibly callus and willfully ignorant of Shreve to have crafted her depiction from this dangerous point of view and I question the wisdom of her publisher too.
I can not strongly enough recommend that no one should read Testimony. Ever. If only because it perpetrates the lie that there is a difference between “legitimate rape” and a guilty conscience.