“For months Joan would replay this moment, trying to decipher the look on her husband’s face. Was it guilt? Confusion? Indignation? Stoicism? Acting? But nothing, not even a revolving camera of omniscience, a floating momentary opportunity to narrate, would allow anyone to truly understand the truth about George. He became a hard statue, an obstacle, a symbol. // The father and the husband, from that moment, had been transformed.”
“Outside, the leaves appeared to have reddened overnight, going mad alongside her.”
There’s been a hype surrounding this book since it hit shelves in August of 2016 and I’m glad to report that it was able to live up to the deserved acclaim. Strong writing, uniquely real and wonderfully flawed characters and a story that’s both controversial and timely enough to drag even the most hesitant reader in makes for an addictive read.
Zoe Whittall’s, The Best Kind of People explores the complexity and complications surrounding the culture of rape and what family means while questioning ultimately what makes a person ‘good.’
In the opening of the novel, the reader follows a man as he storms into a grade school, rifle cradled awkwardly in unfeeling hands as his thoughts fumble clumsily through a drug muddled mind. He’s angry, high and violent – a cocktail of essentially ‘bad’ traits that leave the reader anticipating the worst of outcomes.
Instead, we’re privy to his realization that this isn’t the person he chooses to be. He sets his mind on the decision to lower his weapon and leave the school with no harm done, a new conviction to better himself freshly chanting a mantra of self-help in his head. And then he’s tackled by a teacher who acts on protective instincts.
The teacher becomes a hero.
The man, a criminal.
Was the shooter a bad person? Does the decision to be good negate the initial inclination for bad? As a drug abuser, a delinquent, and a failure, can this man be anything but a maliciously horrible person? How is our perception of evil manipulated by the backstory of someone?
This is the foundation that Whittall builds her story atop. A man who almost shoots up a school, and then a hero who is accused of attempted rape of a child a decade later.
George Woodbury the teacher-of-the-year, revered hero, involved father and kind husband is handcuffed before his family on the eve of his daughter’s seventeenth birthday on four counts of sexual misconduct and attempted rape of a minor – students he’s taught and classmates his daughter has grown up with. In a prestigious, upper-class Connecticut suburbia, home to old money, large estates, and manicured lawns, this scandal rips the meticulously tailored facade of the safe and picture-perfect world of its residents and turns the town on itself. Victims shamed, a class president ostracized, men’s-rights activists propelling a war against media and a wife that vaults between denial and rage as loyalties and apprehensions burrow into the very dynamic of her family. Whittall’s story grows to center around the prevailing question of what to believe: did he do it, or not?
Through a third-person narrative, Whittall keeps the reader slightly at bay from the complete inner workings of her characters which may limit the connection one feels to them but also simultaneously better highlights the quiet anguish of helplessness. We watch the family deal with pain and humiliation in a quiet, displaced calm that resonates in the wake of betrayal. One by one, the family members begin disassociating themselves as a unit and discovering their individualities in an attempt to make it to a tomorrow.
This masterfully written piece of fiction examines the nuances around rape culture and explores its aftermath in a deeply empathetic and understanding light. Zoe Whittall’s talent as a writer is undeniable and in The Best Kind of People, she’s proven that her insight into all the complexities of our morality and humanity is truly impressive. This novel is both timely and necessary in an era of controversial sentences, a trend of appalling assault on college campuses on the rise and the perversion of how we perceive woman and girls in relation to these cases so prominent a debate.
Heart-wrenching and complex, this novel is sure to spark much-needed debate and discussion amongst readers.