Sometimes, monsters are not always as they seem. Not all monsters are vicious, gruesome beasts set on scaring you, or eating you, or causing you harm. Some monsters are far worse. Monsters that make you face the reality of your situation. Monsters that make you see the truth for what it is. Monsters that make you accept the inevitable, even though it hurts. Sometimes, these monsters, the monsters within, are the scariest ones of all.
A Monster Calls is beautiful and raw, a gripping tale that will hit you where it hurts. It is a story about personal truths, acceptance and heartbreaking loss. It is a story that will make you question why you’re reading it in the first place. It is a story that will make you question why you didn’t read it sooner. It is a story that pulls at your heart. It is a story worth reading.
I have read (and enjoyed!) most of Zoe Whittall’s novels, but I almost passed on The Best Kind of People, because the premise of ‘school teacher accused of sexual abuse of students’ is one I’ve seen more than enough of for a lifetime. But, the book was short-listed for the Giller Prize this year, and I decided to give it a shot.
I am so glad I did!
Whittall’s treatment of this subject matter, which is simultaneously extremely sensitive and (in my opinion) massively overused in all forms of fiction, is nothing short of ground-breaking. At no point does the novel give in to the prurience so often present in these kinds of stories – we never hear any details about the sexual misconduct in question. Instead, The Best Kind of People centres itself around the experiences of the family of the man accused, in particular his sixteen-year-old daughter Sadie (who is only a few years older than the girls her father is accused of assaulting) and his wife Joan, neither of whom can reconcile the accusations with the man they know and love.
Ultimately, the novel is a masterful examination of the ways in which our society responds to these kinds of crimes, particularly when the perpetrator is respected person with a great deal of privilege. Sadie and Joan find themselves variously vilified, ostracized and supported by various community members – including support from people they wish would stay well away from them – all while desperately trying to sort through their own feelings, and what it will mean for their lives if their respective father and husband is indeed guilty.
This is a deeply emotional novel, full of well-drawn, complex and realistic characters. Well worth a read!
If you’ve already read and loved The Best Kind of People, check out some other great books from Canadian women, or take a look at other Scotiabank Giller Prize nominees and winners.
Vampires nowadays, attractive as they are and as much glitter as they disperse in the sunlight – let’s face it – don’t hold a torch to the good ol’ vampire of yore. They have become so diluted from, say, Dracula, that to compare the two might actually be a misstep altogether, like comparing apples to oranges. Just to drive my point home (through the heart, with a stake), here are the characteristics Bram Stoker bestows upon his Count in Dracula: he’s a “tall, old man” sporting a white moustache; he has a thin nose and domed forehead, bushy eyebrows and likewise bushy hair; topped off with ruddy lips, protruding sharp teeth, and a “broad and strong” chin. Suffice it to say he is decidedly not the stuff of most people’s dreams. This disparity is what McDoniel takes as his starting point before leaping off into the ether with it. Continue reading