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92 of 98 found the following review helpful:
You can come home againOct 27, 2007
By Linda Pagliuco
The Monsters of Templeton is written by a woman who grew up in Cooperstown, NY, in which this novel is set. Willie Upton, descendant of the fictional counterpart of James Fenimore Cooper, comes flying home at the age of 28, rebounding from a disastrous affair with her doctoral advisor in the fear that she is pregnant. She has also tried to murder the wife of her paramour. Once she arrives home in NY, Willie embarks on a series of genealogical quests.
There is a real monster in Templeton, who dies the day Willie arrives at her mother's house. But the danger in reading The Monsters of Templeton lies in interpreting things too literally. At heart, this is a coming of age story involving a heroine a bit older than most in the coming of age genre. Willie has had an unorthodox upbringing in a town that, immediately below its surface, is as unorthodox as they come. Its founding, its founder, its history, its long-term inhabitants, and its current persona are all unusual, to say the least. Some have characterized Willie as immature. I view her as a young woman caught between two worlds, two times, who is trying to find her self and her destiny, both within her family history and outside of it. And, by returning to her formerly despised hometown, and by allowing Templeton to be itself, and by utilizing her own formidable education to delve into her own ancestry regardless of what it might reveal, Willie does manage to set herself on the right path. She comes to terms with her past, her present, and, as much as possible, with her future. If that isn't magical, I don't know what is. Congratulations to author Groff for producing a strong piece of literature her first time out.
34 of 34 found the following review helpful:
Small Town, Big Secrets.Apr 13, 2008
By Brett Benner
I think I was originally expecting something different from a book called, 'The Monsters of Templeton" that was hugely endorsed by the maestro of literary horror Stephen King. And yes in the book's opening passage an enormous sea creature washes up lakeside, and there's some pulsing ghost like entity that lives in the childhood home of our returning protagonist. However, beyond that this is simply a book about a woman discovering the secret of her lineage through the letters and correspondence of her multitude of ancestors, some of whom are monstrous indeed. Three quarters of the way through I found myself caring less about if Willie would figure out the mystery of who her father was, and instead was more smitten with Groff's romance with the town of Templeton which is directly copied from Upstate New York's Coopertown, where the author grew up. It's all small town USA, Stars Hollowesque with a Greek Chorus of joggers who pass the year with their own few chapters to mark their individual lives throughout the seasons. I don't know if one could call the book completely successful if I'm not caring about the main plot of the story, yet at the same time, I did find myself looking Cooperstown up on the internet, and checking out the various Bed and Breakfasts in the area and wondering about a trip.
18 of 18 found the following review helpful:
Monsters in the water, love in the pastMar 31, 2008
By EA Solinas
As explained at the beginning of this book, Templeton is actually Cooperstown. You know, the place with the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Or rather, it's a "slantwise" version of Cooperstown, with lake monsters, friendly ghosts, and a tangle of ancient family secrets. Lauren Groff's "The Monsters of Templeton" is a cleverly interwoven mystery of old secrets, poetic writing and forgotten scandals, but her heroine is the book's Achilles heel.
Willie Upton is returning to her mother's shabby mansion, pregnant and disgraced after trying to run over her married lover's wife. On the same morning, a gigantic monster is found floating in the nearby lake.
Unsurprisingly, Willie is far more interested in her own problems, especially when her hippie-turned-Baptist mother reveals that Willie was not conceived in a free-love orgy, but with a man she knows right in Templeton. To distract herself from her woes, Willie decides to take a single clue and explore back through her family's history, hoping to find the man who fathered her.
Turns out the Temple family tree has a lot of memorable people -- a savvy slave girl, an ethereal Schizophrenic, a pyromaniac, at least one murderer, a popular novelist, a gentle giant. And as Willie backtracks through her family tree, she finds that the secret of her father's ancestry is intertwined in family scandals long forgotten...
It sounds like a fairly ordinary "family saga" novel, doesn't it? But Groff does infuse something special into the story, including touches of magical realism (an immortal town weirdo, a long-lived lake monster, and a lilac ghost) and a series of family accounts that intertwine over time. Which ones are true, and which are self-serving lies? Well, that's up to the reader.
And Groff spins out this complex story in the decaying small-town paradise of Templeton, through misty colours and vibrant details ("the letters themselves smelled of antique rose-water and age-crisped lace"). Despite its links to the "slantwise" past, a feeling of near-fantastical isolation fills Groff's prose, tempered by the fact that there are so many quirky moments from Clarissa and Vi ("I LIKE the international foods potluck").
The biggest problem with this book is Willie herself -- a whiny, selfish brat whose snobbery, anti-religious bigotry and violent behavior are treated as minor flaws. About two-thirds of the way through, Groff seems to realize that Willie is a pretty nasty piece of work, and tries to soften her into a more likable heroine. This happens without warning or development, and it's too little too late.
Groff's supporting characters are far more likable, especially Willie's vivacious, sickly pal Clarissa, and the two unpredictable ex-classmates who are inexplicably vying for her affections. And Vi is a character deserving her own book -- an ex-hippie earth-mother-type whose free-spirited past is awkwardly fitting with her newfound faith. As the book winds on, we find that it's Vi, not Willie, who is the center of the book.
The only real flaw with "The Monsters of Templeton" is Lauren Groff's lead character. The rest of the book is a dreamlike tapestry of half-real history and magical realism. Definitely worth a read for Groff's way with words.
44 of 50 found the following review helpful:
The Monsters of TempletonFeb 27, 2008
By S. Griffin
Wow, how do I describe this book? The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff, is a fiction/fantasy/mystery/ghost story unlike anything I've read in quite a long time, and it is close to being brilliant.
Set in the fictional town of Templeton, NY (fashioned after Cooperstown), Willie Upton has come home to deal with being pregnant by a professor at Stanford, where she was attending college. Believing herself to be the product of her mother's counter-culture ways in 1970's San Francisco, she is stunned to find out that her father might actually live in Templeton. This is the story of Willie's search for her father, and her wacky genealogical discoveries along the way. Groff even includes "photos" of Willie's ancestors!
Some of the other subjects in this book are Alaska, Archaeology, Arson, Baseball, Clergy, Community Life, Dreams, Friendship, Ghosts, Lakes, Libraries, Murder, Museums, Native Americans, Orphans, Prostitutes, Reading, Runners, Sea Monsters, Summer, Swimming, Toys, Trees, Virtues, Wealth, Widows/Widowers, and Writers. Isn't that enough to make you read it?
I didn't find any deep meaning to this story, but it was a joy to go along for the ride, with all of its crazy twists and turns.
I liked not being able to predict the ending. The Monsters of Templeton is a really entertaining book!
32 of 38 found the following review helpful:
Her Reach Exceeds Her GraspMar 25, 2008
Few writers can truly pull off what Groff tries to do here, and Groff does not succeed. The story is told using multiple narrative voices, letters, newspaper articles and diaries. But that only works if the voices all ring true, and here the voices all sound the same (and often the "old" ones sound clangingly modern). Ghosts, monsters and the occasional undying local are dragged in for a stab at magical realism. But here it's just tiring. I felt like I was reading the literary equivalent of a sewing sampler, with the smartest person in writing class showing that she can make use of every trick and technique. IMHO, a talented writer who needs to calm down and mature.
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