It feels like this is the end of fall, that once November starts, it’s bundle-up-for-winter time. I know that winter doesn’t actually start until late December, but by the end of October, most of the leaves have fallen (not so much yet this year), it gets dark sooner, and there is a permanent chill in the air, with the possibility of snow around every corner. I like the winter, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t feel that we’ve had a proper fall season yet this year. Even now, it was winter coats last week, but I’m planning to wear sandals to work on Tuesday and maybe even Wednesday. In case you can’t tell, I’m not very happy with the weather this season. Grrr…!! Thank goodness for my hot cup of chai tea and a slice of homemade Banana Bread to lift my spirits on this dismal, rainy day!
I read another recently published book by a Canadian author last week, as I am trying to read as many of these books as possible for consideration for the book award committee I am on before the end of November, our deadline for considering new titles. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall tells the story of one family’s experiences in the face of adversity in a wealthy white community outside of Connecticut. George Woodbury is a well-loved and respected science teacher at a prestigious prep school in Avalon Hills where, nearly a decade before the story is set, he disarmed a school shooter and saved many lives, including that of his seven-year-old daughter, Sadie. Voted “Best Teacher” every year since, the school, along with his family, is shocked when he is arrested on multiple charges of sexual harassment and attempted rape of minors while on a school ski trip. Whittall then explores the emotional turbulence of his wife, Joan, a head nurse at the local hospital, daughter Sadie, now seventeen and in the gifted program at the prep school where George teaches, and son Andrew, a gay lawyer living in New York with his partner Jared, as they come to terms with George’s secrets and reconcile themselves to the facts that have been presented while struggling to retain the heroic image of the man they believed him to be. Loyalty and trust are called into question, and each character must consider everything they thought they knew about their father/husband, as they grapple with this difficult question: Can a man still be a hero if he has also committed unspeakable acts? It started off really well, and pulled me in immediately. Setting George up as a hero in the first few pages had me rooting for him to be innocent for about the first third of the book. But then the evidence begins to pile up, and as accusations mount, the balance shifts and I found myself switching sides. Of course, the story is told through the eyes of his family members, who really, really want him to be innocent and for their lives to go back to the way they were before, and their experiences of being shunned and ostracized from the very community where they were once respected and loved were difficult to read about but also all-too-realistic. Whittall never goes into the details of the accusations, nor does she give George a distinct voice in this novel, and she presents the dilemmas of family members caught in this type of situation with understanding and skill. I think my criticism of this book is that it was too long, and that she presented the experiences of Joan, Sadie and Andrew in too much detail - I was looking forward to reaching the last page, but when I did, I found an abrupt ending that seemed rather rushed, considering all the time and effort devoted to presenting every single detail of everyone’s lives from the time of the arrest to the time of the trial. The quotation she has at the beginning of the book, though, was poignant and really made me think about the unfairness of society’s views in these types of cases: “(Rape culture’s) most devilish trick is to make the average, non-criminal person identify with the accused, instead of the person reporting the crime…” (Kate Harding, Asking for it). I didn’t love the book, and I had a hard time identifying with any of the characters, but it was certainly well-written and well-reviewed by many, many sources, so I have to give it an 8 out of 10.
That’s all for today. Stay dry and have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!