Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Best Kind of People

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
Random House Publishing Group: 9/19/17
advanced reading copy: 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399182211

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall is a highly recommended examination of a family after their husband/father is accused of multiple incidents of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The police showed up at midnight on Sadie Woodbury's 17th birthday to arrest her father, George, and charged him with multiple cases of sexual misconduct. George teaches science at the local prep school and has been named Teacher of the Year every year since he stopped a gun man from hurting anyone at the school.  Joan, his wife, is a well-respected ER nurse. Their oldest son, Andrew is a lawyer in NYC with a boyhood history of being bullied at Avalon. The charges seem inconceivable. How could the man they love and trust be guilty of the charges?

The novel does not focus on George, who is in prison awaiting trial during the novel, but on his family and how they are handling the accusations and recriminations. Joan vacillates between denial and rage. Her sister, Clara, comes in to support her and condemns George. She finds a support group and attempts to work through her emotions. Sadie, who was a popular student body leader is now an outcast and becomes reclusive, using marijuana to escape. Andrew rallies to support his family and father, but returning home brings unpleasant memories of abuse as a gay teen in a small town back to haunt him. They all are experiencing shock, various degrees of denial, and confusion. Along with the community scrutiny, judgement, and gossip, a writer decides to pen a lurid novel based on the story and a men's rights activist group rallies to George's defense.

The Woodburys were viewed as successful pillars of the community before the charges. Whittall focuses on the fact that once accusations of a crime of this magnitude are given voice it is impossible for her characters to ignore or not consider the validity of the charges, which completely changes how they view the person they thought they knew. Additionally, the charges against one family member affect all the family members. After an eventful opening when the arrest happens, the novel slows down the pace and covers how the emotions of the family members shift and change over the months leading up to the trial. Really, we are viewing the loss of trust and the psychological destruction of the Woodbury family.

While well-written and engrossing, there are a few missteps. The addition of the writer detracted from the novel's strengths while muddied the focus of the plot and wasn't really necessary. How Joan, Sadie, and Andrew were handling the crisis and their emotions, along with all the social ramifications they were experiencing should have remained the focus. Personally, I liked the ending, even though it did seem a wee bit rushed and just sort of wound down. While it might seem muddled to some readers, it did capture the idea that some events change a person forever and never really have a perfect resolution. (Probably a 3.5)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House Publishing Group.

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