Avalon Hills, Connecticut. The Woodbury family is a kind of an institution in the small community. George’s father has helped to set up the town, George himself is a popular teacher and a hero since he prevented a school shooting ten years ago. His wife Joan works as a nurse and actively contributes to different kinds of charity work, their son Andrew is a successful lawyer in New York and their 17-year-old daughter Sadie a real prodigy. Their life is just perfect. Until one day, a bomb explodes and blows up their whole life: some underage girls accuse George of having tried to rape them during a school trip. What seems to be unbelievable is taken serious by the police and George has to go to prison. Slowly, the family’s confidence in the father’s innocence falls apart. Is he really the man they believed he was?
Zoe Whittall’s novel is a masterpiece in character study. She does not focus on sensationalist facts, actually the accusations, the arguments and the evidence brought forward to support George’s guilt just play a random role in the novel. The centre are Joan and Sadie, wife and daughter who are confronted with the question if they have been fooled and who have to struggle with conflicting emotions within themselves. Their development from absolute supporter, via sceptical but still loyal to building a life without him is remarkably and convincingly portrayed.
It is especially Sadie who can persuade me as a reader. A teenager who is completely knocked off the track, whose life was well organised, everything prearranged and clear in every respect has now to cope with uncertainties, with shades of grey, gets to know her former friends from a completely new and absolutely hostile side. Confused over whom and what to believe, she loses contact to her inner self, tries out pot and pills to numb down her irritating feelings. Strong only for hours or moments, then thrown back again. She is a very authentic character and her struggles appear to be quite authentic.
Since we only get one perspective, the one of the family, we do not really know what actually happened, we never really hear George’s point of view and thus the reader is kept in the dark throughout the novel. There are hints that all might have been set up, yet, then, there is evidence that George is guilty and has not been faithful – in this way, there is an underlying suspense which keeps you going on reading. I enjoyed the novel, for me, it absolutely fulfilled the expectations.