Thursday, October 6, 2011

Alice's Review: The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton
Summary:  "The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass." So begins The Monsters of Templeton, a novel spanning two centuries: part acontemporary story of a girl's search for her father, part historical novel, and part ghost story, this spellbinding novel is at its core a tale of how one town holds the secrets of a family. In the wake of a wildly disastrous affair with her married archaeology professor, Willie Upton arrives on thedoorstep of her ancestral home in Templeton, New York, where her hippie-turned-born-again-Baptist mom, Vi, still lives. Willie expects to be ableto hide in the place that has been home to her family for generations, but the monster's death changes the fabric of the quiet, picture-perfect town her ancestors founded. Even further, Willie learns that the story her mother had always told her about her father has all been a lie: he wasn't the random man from a free-love commune that Vi had led her to imagine, but someone else entirely. Someone from this very town. As Willie puts her archaeological skills to work digging for the truth about her lineage, she discovers that the secrets of her family run deep. Through letters, editorials, and journal entries, the dead rise up to tell their sides of the story as dark mysteries come to light, past and present blur,old stories are finally put to rest, and the shocking truth about more than one monster is revealed.

Review:  I remember reading Julie’s review when she first read this novel. I know she was fond of it so I was excited she suggested I read this one as part of our List Swap Challenge. I have to admit, the beginning of this novel began in fits and starts for me. It took me a while to get into it but once I did, I got wrapped up on the story. I loved Willie from the word go.

Willie is the main character in this novel, the prodigal daughter returned shamed after a tryst with her very married college professor. And if that isn’t bad enough, she’s knocked up. She has a bun in the oven she (somewhat) lovingly refers to as The Lump. The thing about Willie is that she’s heartbroken (and I love the brokenhearted) and remorseful and so lost she doesn’t know what to do with herself. To help her recover, her sweet former hippie turned Christian mom tells her that her father is a “Random Templeton Man” and Willie’s mission is to find out who it is with minimal help from dear old mom. That sets Willie off on a crazy chase into her family’s past to find out who this mystery man is.

The next thing I loved about this novel is the darkness. About 7 or 8 years ago I read a book called Dating Big Bird by Laura Zigman. Although the pages where blinding white, the novel was shroud in darkness. This novel was the same. Even as I got to know Willie and her struggles, it felt like I was reading The Monster of Templeton in the dark. I guess it’s appropriate to feel that way because I’m sure that’s how Willie felt. She was in the dark about who her father was and what to do about the Lump.

This novel was filled with a crazy cast of characters from Willie’s crooked family tree. Their stories are told mostly in chapters dedicated to flashbacks. Of those wacky branches, my favorite had to be the correspondence between Cinnamon Averell and her best friend Charlotte Franklin Temple. I wish there was a novel dedicated to their story, especially Cinnamon. She was a spicy little gem full of moxie. Oh to sit with her for a cup of tea and hear her sordid little secrets.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Monsters of Templeton. Lauren Groff is a gifted writer with the ability to write in lyrical, poetic prose and expressive descriptions. I will admit by the end of the novel, I couldn’t care less who Willie’s father was. I guess it was the point to all this but really, it didn’t matter to me. My desire to know got lost in the pages and pages of the town and Temple family history. I am glad I read it and would recommend it but I wouldn’t read this novel again. I would, however, read Ms. Groff’s other novels. She has a gift, that much is true.

Final Take: 3/5



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