I felt very compelled to indulge in the work of female writers of the twenty first century, who were both actively writing and actively living, Canadian (biasedly, preferably), and writing in a language that is both digestible and not overly pretty. I was ready (having last read: the sun is also a star) to give up on young, trending, female writers, and return to the corner of my bedroom, with my collection of drunk, misogynist, dead old white men who really give it to me good (pun fully intended) and then, I stumped and totally fell body first, into The Best Kind of People, and thank god for that.
Whittall’s best book, follows the narrative around sexual assault, and this is the absolute best way to consider this text. It evaluates how the average (middle class, white, decent) person would react to a pinnacle character being accused of sexually assaulting young adolescent girls (and other). The results were heartbreaking, creating a division between families, friendships and an otherwise, unraveled community.
What really got me going here, beyond the tension of the sexual assault, beyond the victim-blaming, beyond the very real stories of these seamlessly real victims, was the characters at their most honest and vulnerable state. The book takes place in my world, with me and my people. That’s how organic the characters feel. The brilliance behind Whittall’s work has so little to do with the story, and is so much more due to the people (can’t even called them characters at this point) who are perfectly flawed, galloping out the pages and instead, crossing me every day on the sidewalk. That’s how good Whittall has done it. The best kind of people gives us real people, refreshingly compelling and human characters.
Another plus, there is a certain amount of intelligence that comes with simplicity. To have a book delve into so many different personalities and ideologies, the smart move is to keep everything very clear, linear and clean, from the prose to the chapter length, to short and concise paragraphs. Whittal gives us all the tools needed to properly follow suit with these overlapping stories and moments (from George’s arrest than trial, to Sadie’s realization that her father might be a rapist or child molester, otherwise known as the worse kind of person, and to the victims coming clean and coming apart).
I will say this, if you’re into a flashy, or overly metaphoric piece of fiction, this isn’t the book for you—Withal somewhat defines the twenty first century writing style, that is often too poetic and too romantic. There aren’t any fancy writing tricks here, no overdrawn metaphors, no mention of the hurricanes or tornados as a synonyms for chaos. More, the story at times fall very flat, right in the middle of it all, nothing more happens, and it becomes a waiting game. I found myself often running through these dry chapters, so eager to get to the end, so excited to see George successfully punished for his crime. I left the book feeling very cheated and disappointed, as if I was really expecting Zoe to take advantage of the space she has given and give us sexual assault activist a little sympathy. But instead, the story falls flat with a rather disappointing ending, which is in actually only disappointing for how realistic it is. I was angry at Whittal, expecting her to instead stick it to the man, and really stripe George away from everything. But like any classic story of sexual assault, George’s case was basically dismissed.
In other words, Zoe Whittall accurately predicted Bill Cosby’s mistal.
– Téa | @tea.mj