After all the excitement of The Art of Leadership Conference, I have taken a break in my postings about this event and finished reading my second book from the Scotiabank Giller Prize short-list. Reading Zoe Whittall’s book The Best Kind of People was an escape from my own life to consider the challenge of families living with the accusation that their spouse/father/co-worker is a sex offender. Whittall delves into the Woodbury family’s lives after George, esteemed teacher at the Avalon Hills prep school, well-liked member of the community and patriarchal leader of his family was accused with the attempted rape and assault of several students.
The Woodbury family life was sent into turmoil when the police arrived, removing George in handcuffs along with his computers and many items from the family home. Joan, his wife, took a leave of absence and struggled to decide whether her husband was capable of participating in this terrible act. Sadie, his teenage daughter, became a pariah at school and began skipping classes, experimenting with marijuana and alcohol and temporarily moved to her boyfriend’s home to escape. Andrew traveled back and forth from his home in New York, where he was a lawyer who lived with his partner Jarod, to support his mother and sister. The family dealt with their own issues and doubts, none of them really knowing what to believe.
The book was divided into 6 sections: The Prologue describing George as an upstanding citizen and a hero who had thwarted a potential murder in the school. The First Week, The Next Four Months, The Week Before the Trial and The Trial sections share the details of each family member’s struggle. The Epilogue gave a brief update on each main character so that the reader could understand what had happened after the trial. Each section described the frustration and struggles that the family struggled to deal with. Joan went back to work and began attending a support group. Sadie made new friends and was taken advantage of by a local author who wrote about the case. Andrew depended on his partner to support hime yet also kept some distance between his past and current situations.
The book was unique, it makes the reader consider how family members can be blindsided by these kind of accusations, not knowing what to believe and feeling a huge sense of loss and confusion. The Best Kind of People is one of 6 nominees for the $100 000 prize which will be announced on November 7th. I did enjoy reading it and will be interested to read further works by this author. I think she did a great job of writing the ambivalence and frustration experienced by this family but do wonder why, as a Canadian author, she chose the setting to be an American City close to New York?
Zoe Whittall, who is younger than I am, grew up in Quebec and now lives in Toronto. We share the experience of being alumni of Masters Programs at the University of Guelph. She is currently working on editing the 14th season of Degrassi and is teaching at both the Universities of Toronto and Guelph. Whittall will be participating in an author event in Hamilton next weekend and while I wish I could attend, I have other commitments and will keep my eye open for future events. As the Giller Awards announcement comes closer I would recommend reading this glimpse into a family devastated by these charges who may never really know the truth!