“Imagine the person you love and trust becoming a different person overnight. What would you do?” After perpetual Teacher of the Year winner and local “man of distinction” George Woodbury is arrested on multiple charges of sexual misconduct with minors, his wife and children are forced to answer just that question.
Science teacher Woodbury first hit the headlines nearly a decade earlier, when he disarmed a man with a rifle who had entered Avalon Hills prep school with murder in mind. Now, George has become an instant media sensation all over again, this time following the accusations of several female pupils. Having swiftly and unfussily set up this scenario, Canadian novelist Whittall (The Middle Ground, 2010, etc.) chooses to focus not on the alleged crimes but on the repercussions on George’s family: wife Joan, a nurse; bright daughter Sadie, 17; and son Andrew, a lawyer with a boyhood history of being bullied at Avalon. George’s perspective is not included, leaving an obvious vacuum at the heart of the story. Instead Whittall gives voice to the range of sympathy and suspicion from friends and colleagues in this comfortable middle-class community, as well as more extreme responses, like the man who shows up at Joan's house wearing a "Justice for Men and Boys" T-shirt, telling her, "It's the feminists who are going to ruin your husband's life, you know." Joan joins a support group to help deal with the loss of a happy life and beloved partner—all now in the past, whatever the future brings—while Sadie makes her own journey from innocence to experience via a family friend who is secretly writing a novel based on the events. After the novel's busy opening section, the pace slows to allow for the characters' shifts in feeling, eventually reaching a diffused conclusion that makes the memorable point that a story like this never ends.
A humane, cleareyed attempt to explore the ripple effects of sexual crime.