The relaunch of RealSimple.com successfully accomplished (and I hope you’ve been checking out the new site), I finally could get back to the book. And this time I got so caught up in it again so quickly that by Gary’s chapter, when I knew what was coming, I thought, I just don’t know if I can read this. Something terrible is going to happen, and it’s going to happen to Silas. Such an intense connection to a fictional creation is testimony to Anita Shreve’s skills: For the relatively little amount of time that we got to spend with each character, I think we still got a very strong sense of at least most of them.
Still, the breakup of Arthur and Ellen was a mild surprise, though maybe that explains why she sounded throughout as if she were sleepwalking through her own life, keeping her emotions at arm’s length. She made me sad—just one of the many innocent victims of this scandal. Do you think she’ll ever take her drive or will she spend her life just thinking about it? Her final chapter made me think the former—she was so depressed and lonely. But then Rob’s letter gave me hope that maybe she would find the strength to actually get in the car.
Another character I did a little last-minute flip-flop on was Sienna. I started to pity her because I thought she was just so deluded, and clearly had been seeking the attention she wasn’t getting from her parents. I even had a moment when I thought perhaps she didn’t really understand just what she was doing. But then she blew that kiss. That kiss told me everything I needed to know.
In the end, the story was a tragedy of misunderstandings and tenuous connections. Meg and Mike seemed barely married. By the close of the book, he, Ellen, Rob, Anna, and others seem hardly connected to anyone. Mike longs for Anna, but that’s a connection he’ll never have again. He wants to be connected to Owen—at least to attempt to apologize—but he doesn’t have the wherewithal; I’m not sure he ever will. (Did that make you think any less of him?)
The strongest connection, ironically, seems to be Owen’s with Anna (if not vice versa) and Anna’s with Silas. This passage nearly made me weep (it’s a little long, so bear with me):
“Someone came and took Silas to the funeral home. There had to be an autopsy, they said, because he had died under unnatural circumstances, even though everyone knew he had frozen to death up there on the path. Owen believed Silas could have gotten down that path, even in the dark, he knew his son well and knew that he could do that. So Owen thought that there had to be some part of Silas that wouldn’t walk down that path, that didn’t want to come back to his life. And this was the thing that hurt Owen the worst, and he knew the hurt would probably never go away, because Anna and Owen would have forgiven Silas, they would have embraced him, they would have loved him no matter what happened to him after that. And Owen thought that maybe this was something you learned only after the thing you loved most in the world had been taken away from you. What Silas did was nothing compared to the love Anna and Owen would have given him. Owen knew that Silas had hurt a girl, and Silas would have paid dearly for that, but Anna and Owen would always have loved him and held him and breathed life into him until he could stand on his own. They would have done that for their son.
“Anna, though, Anna was ruined. She wouldn’t leave the house now because she was afraid she would see teenage boys. She had wanted to go to Canada, but Owen couldn’t do that. The TV was never on. Anna wouldn’t answer the telephone. Owen had had to tell the newspaper boy not to come around anymore. Owen didn’t know exactly what his wife did all day. Sometimes she cried.
“Silas died hating his mother. And Anna, she knew that. And there was nothing she could ever do about it.”
My sorrow is reserved for the three Quinneys, and then for Noelle. I think Owen still loves Anna. He most definitely will always love his son, and would have loved him no matter what. And that brings me to the misunderstandings. The book is rife with them: Parents misunderstand their children (J. Dot, Sienna, Rob), children misunderstand their parents (Silas and Owen and Anna). Rob misunderstands Silas—he blames himself for not helping his friend, but in fact he has no idea what happened in Silas’s life, what set off the chain of events. Rob also, I think, misunderstands just how disastrous the scandal was: Do you think he’s being honest with himself when he says he believes that few people’s lives had been ruined? I can’t quite figure out what his attitude is at the end.
But maybe that brings us back to where we started: with the idea that everyone has his or her own truth and reality. Or maybe I’m just wrapping up things too neatly. What do you think?
Testimony was an emotionally tough book at points, but I enjoyed the experience of reading it as a group, and I hope you did too. Later this week, my colleague Amanda Armstrong will introduce the club’s next book, December, so please check back in for that. In the meantime, I’m so happy to tell you that Anita Shreve has agreed to answer questions about Testimony. I’m going to kick that off with this:
Was it exhilarating or challenging to invent so many distinct voices? Why did you decide to construct the story that way rather than take a more straightforward narrative approach?
What would you like to know about Testimony? Post your questions here by the end of Friday, February 27.
Thanks so much for joining me this month.