In my book editing class, we were asked to pitch a Canadian book published in the last year. It was just my luck that The Best Kind of People had just come in the library for me after months of waiting. This is fate! So I choose to pitch this book to my class.
Heads up: I’ve read Zoe Whittal before. I read her first two books after being assigned Bottle Rocket Hearts in my university women’s studies course. Zoe herself actually came in to talk to us. It was a great experience. I even enjoyed the book so much that I continued on to her second book. Holding Still For as Long as Possible was also a great book. People said the characters were frivolous and that there was no plot, but I found the diversity of the characters to represent what we see in real life. I think it accurately represented what life in Toronto is like for that age group. But to each their own and we are not talking about her previous work!
The Best Kind of People was short-listed for the Giller Prize, and after reading the book I can see why. I stayed up til 3 a.m. trying to finish this book.
The novel is set in a small town in Connecticut. George Woodbury is a beloved teacher, father and community member. He comes from old money and is even friends with the mayor. His family’s life is turned upside down when one night the police come to arrest him on the charges of sexual misconduct and attempted rape of a minor.
The book mostly deals with his family’s reactions and experiences to the news and upcoming trial. Andrew, his gay son who is now a lawyer in New York City, has escaped the past abuses of being gay in a small town. He thinks he knows the type of girl who is accusing his father, and believes that they are lying. On the other hand, Sadie, the high school-aged daughter, knows the people who are making these claims and doesn’t know how to deal with the two contrasting views of her father. Finally, there’s his wife, Joan, a trauma nurse who can usually handle stressful situations. She does it all the time at work. However, this is personal. Does she believe him? Does she stand by him through it all? Or was she just a blinded wife who had no clue what her husband was doing?
The novel goes through all their points of view and their personal stories as the trial unfolds. We also see the town’s reaction as well. This book is more character-driven than plot-driven. Don’t expect cliff hangers at the end of every chapter. We don’t even see the nitty-gritty of the trial. This is all about how everyone reacts the accusations of sexual assault.
It’s very interesting because we need to have this conversation, and we’ve been trying to have it in the media for the last little while, what with Bill Cosby and the Jian Ghomeshi trial. Zoe covers rape culture, victim-blaming and so much more. The ending was a bit disappointing, but I honestly think it probably reflects what actually happens in the real world. So as much as I didn’t like it, I felt it was realistic.
Bottom Line: If you enjoy getting into people’s heads, seeing what they feel about certain events, this book is for you. If you want to learn more about what happens after someone is accused of sexual misconduct, and the thoughts that come from the media or family, this book if for you. It’s an interesting read which explores things we have all seen recently in the media regarding accusations of sexual assault. I think this book has started a conversation that Canada (along with the world) needs to have about rape culture.