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 it’s resultant destructive power, it was though the two-by-three plastic package had been radioactive. Which it may as well have been, since it had produced something 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.
This thoughtful novel is aptly titled, as each of the parties involved in a scandal and its aftermath at prestigious New England boarding school, Avery Academy, give Testimony (pun intentional) to a young researcher from the University of Vermont, ostensibly (!) to help her conduct a study into “Alcohol and Adolescent Male Behaviors in the Secondary School Setting”, but mostly to have an outlet as they sort through and come to terms with events that have dramatically changed the fundamentals of their existence.
This could have easily been an issues book and probably a rather heavy-handed and one-sided one at that. Dealing with issues of teenage sexuality and drinking in an elite New England prep school it would be so easy to fall into an icky morass of cliches, preconceptions and stereotypes. Indeed Avery Academy’s Headmaster, Mike Bordwin, ponders these same issues as he watches the tape that he fears will be the end of his career. However, Shreve’s strong writing and compassionate story telling make for a book of beautiful character studies and a gentle exploration of human desire, fragility and the ease with which missteps and carelessness can change everything.
This was a compelling and suspenseful read. I was totally absorbed in each character’s version of events and in each of the character’s voices, which were varied and distinct. I was going to lend it to my friend, but in second thought she might just have to wait and get her own copy.
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THANK YOU, Nicole!