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Testimony by Anita Shreve

Testimony by Anita Shreve, which will be released on Oct. 21, was such a surprise in my mailbox from Hachette Group’s Miriam Parker. Thanks, Miriam! I met Anita Shreve at the 2002 National Book Festival signing in Washington, D.C. I’ve been in love with her writing since I first read The Pilot’s Wife many years before that, and I will admit here that I’ve tried to emulate her style in my own writing, though my writing has not met muster.

Testimony is one of those novels that slowly draws you into a prep school known as Avery Academy in Vermont where four boys and one girl make a decision that will change their lives and the lives of other students, teachers, administrators, families, and neighbors for years to come. Testimony is given throughout the novel from a number of characters–minor and major characters–illustrating the depth to which decisions of one or several people can impact others who are seemingly unconnected to the decision-makers. Jacqueline Barnard, a researcher from the University of Vermont, receives the interviews either in written form or through personal encounters with several of the characters.

The videotape that surfaces in Avery Academy Headmaster Mike Bordwin’s office is central to the story that unfolds in the novel, but another decision among a pair of adults also impacts the students and others in the town. Shreve is a master of character development and setting. I was drawn into the bitter cold winter snow of Vermont and the coziness of the town and the school, as well as the dark undercurrents in each of these characters’ lives. Shreve is adept at highlighting the nuances of how underage sex and drinking affects the students, the faculty, and others, while not preaching to the reader.

Silas and Noelle, two of the main adolescents in the novel, share a deep connection to one another at a tender age. It was tough to watch how this connection was tested and ultimately severed. Silas and his mother, Anna, also have a tight bond and naturally this connection is tested. Another adolescent boy, J. Dot and his bravado, serves as a foil to Silas’ hard-working, compassionate, and dutiful persona. Noelle is the naive and romantic girl-next-door, while Sienna is the wild girl looking for trouble even if it is on a subconscious level.

As always, Shreve has outdone herself in this novel, weaving a series of disjointed testimonies into a coherent and heart-wrenching story of love, loss, responsibility, and adolescence. I’ve often wondered if Shreve has ever tried her hand at poetry because the language she creates on the page paints a vivid image, and those images often conjure deeper meanings and emotions for the reader.

Also Reviewed By:
A Writer’s Pen
The Sleepy Reader
J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Reader for Life
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For the Good Times
CaribousMom
Bookshipper
S Krishna’s Books
Peeking Between the Pages
Breaking the Spine
Booking Mama
Literarily
Redlady’s Reading Room
B&B Ex Libris
Pop Culture Junkie
She Is Too Fond of Books

Surfing Through Life

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve is not one of my favorite novels, but I enjoyed the meditative way in which she weaves the love triangle between Sydney, Jeff, and Ben. What I enjoyed most about the love triangle is that it is done in such a way that it takes the whole book to see the outcome and the third angle in the triangle.

***Spoiler Alert***

Sydney loves to body surf in the ocean, and this becomes a metaphor for how she lives her life. She tends to get swept up by the circumstances she finds herself in, whether it’s the odd jobs she has held or the men she becomes involved with. She’s been married two times previously when we meet her in the book, and she has taken time off from graduate school after the death of her second husband to tutor a young girl, Julie Edwards, for the SATs over the summer.

She has a relatively calm time at the New Hampshire beach cottage, which has appeared in several of Shreve’s other novels–including one of my favorites The Pilot’s Wife. The house’s history is not lost on the character of Mr. Edwards in this book, and he has even become a sort of historian of the house. It has been great to see the stories that emerge from this single cottage over the years. I wonder if Shreve will set another novel in this cottage; I would enjoy visiting it again.

Suddenly, Sydney is thrust between two brothers and their competitive behavior. The competition is not overt, but alluded to throughout the book. The subtlety here may be hard to sift through, but reading Shreve’s works in the past, I’ve become more attune to her visual cues and descriptions to uncover the internal struggles and hidden agendas and connections between her characters.

I truly enjoyed the parts after the wedding debacle where Sydney spends time in a Boston hotel to regroup and her meeting with Mr. Cavalli. I think these were eye-opening experiences for the character. Her return to New Hampshire three years later for a psychology conference and her subsequent meeting with Ben is a major turning point for a number of characters, including Sydney and Ben’s mother. I just love the few lines with which Shreve accomplishes the transition in this book and the immediate mutual realization that Ben and Sydney reach together.

***End Spoiler Alert***

Overall, this book held my attention throughout the daily commute and even some evenings at home when I was engrossed in the dialogue and current situations Sydney found herself in. While it is not as well constructed as The Pilot’s Wife, Sea Glass, or The Last Time They Met, I enjoyed my journey back to the oceanside of New Hampshire and the trip back into Boston, even if it was for a brief interlude.

***Please feel free to enter the next National Poetry Month Contest here.