When Mike Borden, the headmaster of a prestigious private school in Vermont, is handed a tape by his secretary, he isn’t sure what to expect. He certainly doesn’t expect to see two highly respected students and a third post-graduate student engaging in sexual intercourse with a 14 year old girl, but that’s precisely what he does see. The last thing he anticipates is the explosive effect that this single tape – that this single evening – will have on so many lives, both in and out of the small town in which the private school is located.
This is quite an overwhelming book. The story is immensely more complex than I’ve just described, but it’s very difficult not to give away any details and still write a summary. The author rotates viewpoints, featuring the girl, the boys, the headmaster, some of the parents, and other related people. It really reads like a collection of testimonies from all the players in the very serious events of those few days that determined many futures. At times this is disorienting. Each person’s narrative is written in a distinct style so that they’re easily distinguished, but it’s very easy to lose track of where you are in the story, particularly when a person’s chapter is only two or three pages long. They also skip around in the book’s timeline, and as I read quickly, occasionally I’d wonder just what was happening with the other people at the time because it didn’t seem clear to me. Perhaps if I had spent more time on each perspective, this wouldn’t have mattered, but I also really wanted to work out just what happened.
On the other hand, the emotional power of this book is not to be missed. Anita Shreve carefully gathers in all the threads of her tale and brings it to a startling climax that you don’t expect until only a page or two before it happens; looking back, however, you can see how the rest of the day’s events led to it. It feels carefully crafted to evoke this particular outcome and to minutely examine how everyone felt about the tape.
In the end, I’d call this a very good book. It has compelling characters, a riveting plotline, and terrific attention to detail. The rotating viewpoints are a minor problem, but one that I could get past to enjoy the book. And I’m now compelled to add Anita Shreve to my “authors whose work I should read” list. Check this book out on Amazon. It’s released today!
Finally, many thanks to Miriam Parker at Hachette for sending me this review copy!