The Best Kind of People / Zoe Whittall
Toronto: Anansi, c2016.
Whittall takes on a contentious issue in this novel; what happens when a beloved, heroic high school teacher is accused of sexual improprieties by his students? What happens to the family that surrounds him? This is what happens to George Woodbury and his family, well-off and stalwart members of their small community.
Whittall focuses in on the family in this situation -- from George's own teenage daughter Sadie (who is then ostracized by her peers) to his gay son Andrew, to his wife Joan who nobody quite believes would have known nothing. Added to the mix we have Joan's sister, a straight-talking single woman, and Andrew's partner from the city.
This is a straightforward story: it's interested in what happens to those surrounding the accused, not so much in the facts of what happened or didn't happen (in fact, we never do find out the "truth" - did he or didn't he - and that is why this would make a great book club choice...lots to argue over!)
But despite the catchy subject and the interesting angle, I found this one a little bit forgettable. It's like Jodi Picoult if she wrote Canlit -- take an issue, fit a story of a well to do white family around it. I didn't find that I really engaged with any of the characters very strongly, though if I had to pick one which caught me most, I would say that Joan, the wife, did the most for me. Her dilemma was harrowing; do you believe the man you've spent your life with, or his accusers? Do you stay or go? And could you have possibly mistaken his character so greatly?
I know this book has been vastly popular with readers (Indigo's Book of the Year) and well as getting more literary attention via the Giller, so you might just love it. I liked it enough to read through to the end and ponder over for a while, but the love just wasn't there for me. Perhaps it was the generic American setting, or the family itself - their complacency irritated me a bit to begin with. In any case, this is objectively a good, solid, discussible read. Just not one that I was all that crazy about.
I have had my eyes on this, but haven't had a chance to read it yet. Too bad it didn't impress you!ReplyDelete
It didn't UNimpress me, it just didn't have the spark I hoped for, at least for me.Delete
Interesting to read your thoughts on this. I found the book to be quite a page-turner. I do wonder what it would have looked like, and how it would have all turned out, if the family involved hadn't been so privileged...ReplyDelete
Maybe that was it - the privilege put me off a bit, and I wasn't too worried about his fate as a result.Delete
I wasn't engaged with George's character at all. It was the peripheral characters (i.e. everyone else) whose stories pulled me in. Especially, as you've mentioned, Joan's. Did you catch the "Next Chapter" interview with ZW, in advance of or following your reading? I was so glad to NOT know the information she shared there when I was reading the story. I felt that would dramatically have changed my reading of the novel, if I'd been aware of the inspiration for the book.ReplyDelete
I try not to listen to interviews etc. before I read a book -- if I'm intending to read it -- because of that. Same reason I try to avoid introductions, afterwords etc. I want to try to come to the novel without any ideas - I look all those up afterward. So I may just go back and listen to the Next Chapter now to see what she says.Delete