Zoe Whittall’s “The Best Kind of People”
- March 1, 2018
Reviewed by Shauna Andrews
“[Rape Culture’s] most devilish trick is to make the average, non-criminal person identify with the person accused, instead of the person reporting the crime . . .” Kate Harding, Asking for It
The Best Kind of People, Whittall’s newest novel, is both sophisticated and empathetic in addressing a topic that is typically off-limits – sexual assault, rape, and the gray area of accusation and belief that lies in between.
Whittall begins with a prologue that has Sadie Woodbury, the novel’s protagonist, under threat of attack from a school shooter. She is 10 years old, and her father George, a teacher at the school, comes to her rescue. They are very close.
The novel proper begins with Sadie, now a teenager, and her boyfriend Jimmy, swimming in the lake by her home. Meanwhile, her parents relax inside; they are typical of an ease that comes from living in a town that has nothing to hide.
However, within the first few pages, all of this changes, as the environment that Whittall builds so quickly collapses under the stress of a surprising twist – George’s arrest for sexual assault of numerous female minors at his private school.
Joan, once the steadfast wife, begins to question what she knows about her husband as small clues come to her attention. Meanwhile, Sadie, a classmate of all the female accusers, faces ridicule and doubts her father’s innocence. Sadie’s brother Andrew and her aunt Clara become Joan’s moral support, while Sadie stays at her friend Jimmy’s house where substances are available to help her forget about the trouble at hand.
As George’s case continues to be investigated, leaving him in jail for months, his family members consider what this means for their family moving forward, guilty or not. Could someone so close to them be someone they don’t know at all? The story at its heart is about the emotional weight of a scandal, and the way family, friends, coworkers, and a community might deal with distasteful drama as they divide and take sides.
Whittall uses four separate perspectives to represent how the general public might see this type of misdemeanor in a small town. The novel covers the initial week of the scandal, the next few months, and then the trial. In doing this, Whittall reminds readers there are many steps between guilty and innocent, and that for some, new scandals may replace the drama of the initial one. Suffering continues and nothing will ever be the same, as the Woodbury family begins to realize.
The Best Kind of People is an emotionally charged book that explores a sex scandal from all sides, questioning the truth. Deserving of its many literary awards, Zoe Whittall’s fourth and most successful novel is one that readers won’t be able to put down.