Finally a book I loved and had a hard time putting down - it's been a long while since that happened. Whittall is very deserving of being long listed for the Giller.
The Woodbury's are the third generation of a wealthy WASPy family living in the large family home on a small lake in New England. The father, George, has been teacher of the year every year for at least a decade at the prestigious prep school his 17 year old daughter, Sadie, also attends. His wife, Joan, is a trauma room nurse who married into the wealth and does not live the life of leisure that others expect of her. Their older son, Andrew, is now in his thirties and working as a lawyer in New York while living with his partner Jared. The other main characters are Joan's prickly but practical sister, Clara, Sadie's boyfriend, Jimmy, his mother Elaine and her boyfriend, Kevin.
On the day of Sadie's 17th birthday the police barge into her home and take her father away in handcuffs - he has been accused by several teenage girls of inappropriate sexual advances and attempted rape while chaperoning a school ski trip. His family is totally surprised by the charges against him - which he vigorously denies - and the book really focuses on how each of them deal with it in their own way.
At first Joan is certain her husband is being framed. But as she looks into her finances in an effort to raise bail she discovers money missing and becomes more suspicious about what George could be hiding. At the start she visits him in prison and tries to get the truth until one day he explodes and tells her to stop asking questions. Then she takes a break from the visits. Being practical she tries to work through the surprise of suddenly being on her own - she attends a support group for partners of men in prison for sexually related crimes, she goes back to work, she leans on her sister and she tries desperately to parent her children.
Sadie cannot take the constant scrutiny of press in her home or the nasty voice mail messages, eggs thrown at the windows and the fact that she's suddenly become a social pariah when previously she had been her grade's highest performer, president of student council, a track start and very popular. She leans on her boyfriend Jimmy who remains very loyal and in love with her and moves into his family home. There Kevin, who is a writer with one bestseller in his past and a severe case of writer's block, exploits her story to write his next bestseller. Sadie misinterprets his interest in her which causes a strain on her relationship with Jimmy while his book puts a strain on Kevin's relationship with Elaine. Elaine is mortified that he would use Sadie in this way.
Andrew's partner Jared tries to be very patient in his support, but Andrew continuously pushes him away as he struggles to deal with his fervent wish his father was innocent but his inability to make a legal case for it. This is heightened when someone from Andrew's past brings him a new and more shocking revelation.
Another interesting side story is how George's case is taken up by a fervent group of anti-feminists who say charges of this nature are all a plot against men by slutty women who regret their actions in the morning. Both Joan and Sadie are tempted to accept their support but are horrified to be associated with these fanatics who are so against their regular ideals.
As the book unfolds the reader is left to decide whether George is guilty or has been framed and whether the reactions of his family make sense. To me all of the varied reactions seemed very realistic and I sympathized with everyone (except perhaps Kevin and the anti-feminists) at some point in the book. It ends with the trial and a brief epilogue of what happened a year or so out in the future.
I highly recommend this book!