Title: The Best Kind of People
Author: Zoe Whittall
Published by: House of Anansi Press
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Where I got the book: Public Library
The Woodbury family’s lives are suddenly violently disrupted one night with the arrest of George Woodbury for sexual impropriety at the prestigious prep school he teaches at. Joan, his wife, switches between denial and rage as the community splits apart, one side in support and the other in rejection. Their daughter Sadie becomes an outcast at school. Their son Andrew, a lawyer who is helping with his father’s legal defence, grapples with being back in the town that holds so many bad memories of his teen years. A local men’s rights activist group champions themselves on George’s side and a local author and family friend exploits the story in his latest novel. The Best Kind of People is the unflinching story of a family on the verge of collapse and asks how do you pick up the pieces of your life after something like this happens? What does it mean to defend someone you love while wrestling with the possibility of their guilt?
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like The Best Kind of People since books about wealthy white people’s lives imploding aren’t really my thing. But I found myself pleasantly surprised by the plot and drawn in by Whittall’s writing. The narrative moves along at a steady pace and allows you to be drawn into the character’s thoughts and lives. The Woodbury family and the community they live in are very realistically rounded and flawed. This isn’t just a speculation of an upsetting and violent event but a sketch of the complicated possibilities of real life.
The main thing I loved about The Best Kind of People is how flawed everyone is and the realism in how each member of the family reacts to the revelation of George’s actions. This is the story of a man who takes advantage of his position of power and sexually assaults a number of teenage girls, but it is not his narrative. George is primarily a presence throughout the book, never receiving a point of view. Instead, The Best Kind of People rightly centres itself on the people who are impacted by George’s actions and their struggle to reconcile them with the loving husband and father they know. Throughout the book Whittall expertly writes the complexity of human emotions in a time of trauma and stress.
And although it made me upset, the realism of the book hits home. There is no clean cut happy ending in the majority of situations like this. Rapists go free everyday, or are never charged. Victims let abusers back into their lives. People make excuses for why their loved ones have done horrible things. The Best Kind of People is unflinchingly human and a well written take on a story that sadly happens all too often.