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Zoe Whittall’s newest novel is a story about a family living in a sheltered, upper-class town dealing with the aftershocks of rape allegations against the father.

Last spring's poster for Norwegian director Joachim Trier's third film, Louder Than Bombs, features three high school cheerleaders, airborne against a blue sky. At first, the image of the girls mid-flight, wearing their uniform of red shorts, white tees and red ribbons in their hair, seems like a strange choice for an otherwise ruminative film about a family living through the aftermath of a mother's death. The car crash was a few years ago, not far from their upstate suburban home, and still haunts the husband and two sons.

The eldest, who has returned to help his father sort through his mother's photographs – she was a famous war photographer and a retrospective of her work is being planned – relapses into a mild, destabilizing torpor. He avoids phone calls from his wife, who's taking care of their newborn in Manhattan, sleeps with his high school girlfriend, takes naps throughout the day, and one morning, he accompanies his younger brother to school, where they sit perched on bleachers, watching the cheerleading team prepare for practice. "I can't believe they still do this shit," he says as the girls gab on the football field, having been launched into the air moments ago just as they are on the movie's poster. It's a quick sequence capturing the chronic display of high school's hierarchy while also illustrating the disorienting nature of returning home. How some things change and how other things appear stuck in time. The baffling delusion of traditions and memory lane.

That scene from Louder Than Bombs came to mind while I was reading Zoe Whittall's newest novel, The Best Kind of People. It, too, is a story about a family living in their sheltered, upper-class small town (in this case, somewhere in Connecticut), experiencing aftershocks. George Woodbury is a prep-school teacher, revered for having tackled a school shooter a decade prior. Teacher of the Year, he lives with his wife Joan – the head trauma nurse at the local hospital – and his 17-year-old daughter, Sadie, in a part of town called Woodbury Lake, named after his parents. His son, Andrew, a lawyer, lives in New York with his boyfriend.

Very early in the novel, George is arrested. He is charged with four counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and attempted rape. The Woodburys' lives topple and Whittall's telling of it – how the family becomes social pariahs stricken by suburbia's alienating din, the ambushing nature of lies, secrets and loyalties, and the general bleariness of who to believe/did he or didn't he? – becomes the book's driving force, quietly sustaining a whole community of characters.

While the Woodburys attempt to metabolize their pain and humiliation, what surfaces instead is the strange, almost spooky calm that comes with helplessness. Everyone reacts, sure, but somehow, the turbulence of their movements seem more normal, open and honest. The kind of emotional audit that follows betrayal.

Sadie, once the popular class president, ditches her clean image for more teenaged, albeit unwise, distractions. She spends time with town misfits, smokes weed, uses sex as a quick fix. She centres her own curiosities. She no longer fights whatever mood overcomes her. She ignores her phone and her tally of missed calls shape a new quality of life for Sadie, who seems mostly unaffiliated. To anyone. To anything.

Two-thirds of the way through, after having moved into her boyfriend Jimmy's home with his mother and stepdad (a novelist who, unbeknownst to her, is fictionalizing the scandalous nature of her life into a ripped-from-the-headlines book), she takes a break from Jimmy and returns to her mother and her house on the lake.

"When [Sadie] got home," Whittall writes, "she curled up on the couch in the den and watched a marathon of home-improvement shows. It was something she knew absolutely nothing about. If forced to build a house, she wouldn't know where to start. She appreciated that feeling." Powerlessness, as it specifies comfort, is a theme that recurs throughout the novel. The Woodburys are undone and lost, but for the first time, they are locating themselves individually instead of as a unit.

Whittall's use of the third person distances the reader, sometimes tangling rage with denial, and grief with giving up, making it tricky to get a strong grasp of a character's inner leanings. (Perhaps this has something to do with, as Whittall told The Globe and Mail, having recently spent a lot of time writing screenplays, developing a new appreciation in her work for "action and brevity.") But there is a sense that the Woodburys, who were once coaxed, argumentatively speaking, by the notion of "grey area," are, ever since George's arrest and as the trial approaches, moving toward an understanding of what's black and what's white. The word rape is used sparingly in the novel and when Joan hears it for the first time, it lands "hard" between her and husband's lawyer: "No one had used that word before without the attempted preceding it."

The timeliness of The Best Kind of People is, of course, coating its release. While Whittall has been working on this novel for six years, discussion of rape culture and the rise of men's-rights activists in the media, the handling of rape culture on college campuses, the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election and the passing, for instance, of a new rape bill in California following Brock Turner's lenient sentence, while not central to Whittall's novel, feel opportune, though never cunning. The focus is the family, its history and how recovering from the inconceivable often means repossessing, perhaps not a sense of self, but a plan for tomorrow. And then the next day. And then the day after.

Durga Chew-Bose's collection of essays, Too Much and Not the Mood, will be published in 2017.