Review: The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
This novel was one of the darlings of Canadian publishing last year. It was nominated for this, won that, short-listed for something else – does it bother you that I didn’t even share the specific prizes? That’s kind of what reading this book is like.
The story centres on a wealthy family whose patriarch, a beloved teacher who once saved his school from a crazed gunman, is charged with sex crimes against some female students. The alleged incidents are never really explained. George’s behavior is only described by other characters in bits and pieces but we never know what happened. Instead, the novel explores the crises that befall his family amid the media chaos and questions about whether they even knew their husband/father. The trouble is, the story never quite gets there. It circles passively around issues surrounding double lives and rape. Even a major revelation that appears to finally point to George’s guilt or innocence arrives with a “meh”. If this novel was a knife, it would be in desperate need of sharpening.
I know how difficult it is to write fiction. I’m attempting it myself – or rather, currently not attempting it – and it’s taking longer than I imagined. Me and my novel are currently on a break. But after all of the hype and kudos piled on this particular book, I expected to be moved or surprised. Instead, it just rolled along at an even pace without any real excitement. So, the youngest kid starts hanging out with a pothead. She doesn’t seem to be too dangerous. Emotional outbursts by Joan, George’s wife, don’t pack a punch. The revelation of a major betrayal by a friend of the family also carries little emotional weight.
The Best Kind of People was a national best-seller and one of those books you’re “told” you need to read. Well, I read it. Many people must have loved it. I wasn’t one of them.