When I began reading this book, I felt that the author, very much like the characters in that first, awful chapter, was posturing before a camera, saying the 'right', shocking things, making all the 'right', unbelievable moves. I thought to myself: this is a book written for an audience - an audience that enjoys being titillated and shocked, and, at that point, I came very close to abandoning the book. However, I decided to give the author the benefit of the doubt.
It is definitely not a book I would read a second time, even though, to give Anita Shreve her due, the idea behind the book - the ripple effect of a thoughtless action - is interesting. That said, I felt that the characterization is uneven and, in many cases, not sufficiently established to enable the reader to sympathize fully with any of the main characters.
The title, Testimony, (meaning: evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof) is somewhat misleading, unless, of course, Shreve is simply saying that alcohol and schools do not mix. Unfortunately, the 'why' behind the incident at the beginning of the book is buried under the confusion of all the people who are somehow connected, either directly or indirectly, with what happened. The story blunders along, swinging from one person to another, collecting various snippets of guilt and dissatisfaction, until, finally, at the very end of the novel, one of those involved gives us an extremely belated answer to the 'why'.
It is made very clear that the headmaster mismanaged the situation, and it is possible that, in his eagerness to protect everyone involved, including the school, he makes a number of disastrous decisions; however, given the fact that the incident had already gone viral on the internet by the time he became involved, I really doubt that anything he did or did not do would have saved the situation. However, if the question 'why' had been answered at an early stage of the drama, which, to my way of thinking, would have been more realistic, then much heartache could have been avoided. Of course, the book would then have been very different; in fact, it may not even have been written.
Definitely not the best book I have ever read, and I would think twice before reading another book by the same author. Although it does have a number of redeeming factors, I feel that it is a book that has been written very much with a certain section of the book-buying public firmly and centrally in mind.
A review of the book from the Los Angeles Times
Photo of Anita Shreve from www.newburyport-today.com