George Woodbury is the greatest guy. In affluent, co-op food-store-supporting, Starbucks-gulping, small-town Connecticut, he’s voted Teacher of the Year, every year, at the elite prep school. He’s even a local hero, having once taken down a school shooter and saving students’ lives. Everyone loves George, and his self-sacrificing nurse wife Joan, and his grown son living in the big city, and his sweet daughter who attends the school.
Until four students of George come forward and claim he sexually assaulted them.
The most insightful aspect of this book is what it isn’t about. It isn’t about these four girls who claim to have been assaulted. It isn’t about the assault. It isn’t about whether George is guilty or innocent. It isn’t even about George.
This book is the tale of George’s wife, the shattering of her perfect marriage, the dissolution of the future she envisioned cushioned with trust fund money and easy retirement. It’s the story of George’s son, a once-closeted gay man who has to return to the hometown full of homophobes who bullied him into psychosis. This is the story of Sadie, George’s daughter, who once considered him her hero, and now wonders if she was deluded. Now the only certainties in her life are her passion for marijuana and a much older man.
The ramifications of these allegations don’t simply vanish after the trial. George’s guilt or innocence isn’t the issue at all. This book explores the lesser-known effects of the other victims of assault: the family members who are blind-sided with doubts about what they once held as truths.
Some reviewers complained that the ending left nothing resolved, but I disagree. The ending is true to life. Life goes on, people live through this, and have to live with this, for the rest of their lives. If George is guilty or if George is innocent, the ramifications of this ordeal remain. The doubts never go away.
I appreciated this exploration on the consequences of sexual assault allegations that extend beyond the accused and their victims. The writing is fast-paced enough to keep the readers’ interest. Occasionally, the clichés surfaced (wealthy prep school, small snobby town, organic food markets), and some editing might have reduced the repetitiveness of some of the anger and anxiety, but overall it was a good story, and worth recommending.
Many thanks to Random House Publishing, Netgalley, and the author for this advance copy in exchange for my honest review.