Men behaving badly: The Best Kind of People (review)

The Best Kind of People
Zoe Whittal
Ballantine Books

The story is an all-too-familiar one: a beloved teacher is charged with improper behavior towards female students. Headlines scream. Families crumple. Lives disintegrate. I’d venture a guess it’s happened in just about every high school at one time or another. And if a parent or administrator is quick to deny such a thing would ever happen at their All-American High–just ask the kids. They know.

George Woodbury fits the profile: beloved teacher, active community member, loving family man. George was it at Avalon Hills Prep School. (In fact, George is so wonderful he single-handedly took down a school shooter at his daughter’s elementary school a decade earlier.) But one late-summer night, the police show up at the door. Arrest George. Strip the home he shares with wife Joan and seventeen-year-old daughter Sadie of photo albums, computers, files, even family portraits on the wall. Gone.

The charge? Sexual misconduct with three female students and attempted rape. George promises he’ll be out in a day or so–there must be some mistake. Joan pledges to make bail and stand by his side. Sadie is devastated. How could anyone accuse her father of such a ridiculous charge. He’s the one who gave her the rape whistle she wears. He’s the one who preached ‘girls can be anything’. “He even read the Gloria Steinem biography,” Sadie remembers. But is seems there have been rumors–whispers and warnings that George never spoke of to Joan–and some around Avalon Hills aren’t surprised at all.

There’s a fair amount added to the plot that I didn’t need. Sadie has a lot of sex with her boyfriend. There’s a party scene (or the aftermath) that’s raunchy. A based-on-real-events novel gets written about the case. The Woodbury’s live in a wealthy lakeside community on inherited money. Son Andrew can’t open up emotionally to his partner.

It’s Joan I can’t get out of my mind, though.

The woman did everything by the book. She married her sweetheart, she put him through grad school, she kept a beautiful home and grew vegetables and baked cookies and volunteered from here to kingdom come. As if that wasn’t enough, Joan was a respected emergency room nurse at the local hospital. She raised two incredibly bright and successful children. (Sadie’s older brother Andrew is a lawyer living in New York.) She was the Harriet to her Ozzie, the June to her Ward. She did things the. right. way.

How could she not know. She had to, right? That’s what the community thought. That’s what I think when I hear about these cases in the news. Or could it be that George wasn’t even guilty? Maybe he was just set up by some disgruntled, troubled young girls. That’s what the community thought. That’s what think when I hear about these cases in the news.

But we women love our men–even those behaving badly, right? Through thick and thin, ’til death do us part and all that.

We watch Joan grow a pair. She attends a support group for women whose partners are in prison. She finds out the trust money is (surprise!) nearly gone. She asserts herself, cuts off contact with George because of new evidence and starts to think about building a life without him.

Of course you want to know Joan’s decision. George’s guilt or innocence. There’s no spoiler alert here, reader. But the last page was so charged I could have thrown my Kindle across the room.

It’s a doozy.

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