Shreve’s considerable storytelling skills are on display in this novel, a series of events told from the perspective of various characters, both peripheral and critical. When the headmaster of Avery Academy in Vermont views a sex tape made on campus by four students, he is appalled. In the tape are three of Avery’s most promising basketball stars - Rob, J.Dot and Silas - the participating female student only fourteen years old. Hoping to control what can be a serious issue for the academy, Mike Bordwin takes immediate steps to limit the damage: “And it was then that the word containment entered his mind.”
He calls two of the boys into his office, unable to locate the third, demanding signed confessions of both. Unfortunately, the savvy young woman claims that she was assaulted by the boys and makes a report to the police. The incident spirals out of Bordwin’s control, the tape on the Internet and the national media descending on the academy, college basketball careers ruined and fragile marriages shattered as events unfold.
The author masterfully builds her case, disclosing the reactions of the four students, their parents and others who watch a nightmare unfold. What may have been a stupid prank for some becomes a scandal for the boys, although the girl moves on, recreating herself at another campus. The parents experience outrage in various degrees, their marriages strained - some to the breaking point - by the boys’ drunken revelry.
But the seeds of tragedy, planted before the incident, bloom in an atmosphere where every detail is fodder for a curious press. Their projected college careers in shreds, the young men face far different futures. Silas, a local boy on scholarship, suffers most for his lack of judgment, a tender relationship with his girlfriend part of the damage as well as his shattered innocence. Caught in a vortex of emotions he is unable to handle, Silas is a sympathetic figure, the sensitive boy who makes a terrible mistake.
The stories build one upon another as future hopes are dashed and parents struggle to make sense of their sons’ involvement in this tawdry scandal. Cause and effect form the crux of this tale, a selfish decision, once exposed, rippling outward with devastating consequences.
Outrage becomes tragedy, not one of the critical characters left unscathed in an emotional ending that leaves a community in shock and two parents in despair. Shreve beautifully manipulates her story, from the reckless, drunken behavior of participants to the tragic repercussions of the tape. In a small, elite secondary school, a hopeful future is reduced to ashes.