The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
On the very morning Willie Upton slinks home to Templeton, New York (after a calamitous affair with her archeology professor), the 50-foot-long body of a monster floats from the depths of the town's lake. This unsettling coincidence sets the stage for one of the most original debut novels since The Time Traveler's Wife. With a clue to the mysterious identity of her father in hand, Willie turns her research skills to unearthing the secrets of the town in letters and pictures (which, "reproduced" in the book along with increasingly complete family trees, lend an air of historical authenticity). Lauren Groff's endearingly feisty characters imbue the story with enough intrigue to keep readers up long past bedtime, and reading groups will find much to discuss in its themes of "monsters," both in our towns and our families.
The Monsters of Templeton is chock full of information and characters, and while I sometimes got lost in all of it, it was worth the effort of wading through it.
The historical flashbacks in this story really appealed to me. I particularly appreciated the interectedness of the characters from the past with their modern day contemporaries. In my opinion, the 'monsters' in this story are the sins of the Templetonians (lust, greed, etc., etc.) that passes through the generations, not the sad and lovely monster from the lake.
Like many of the books that I've read lately, I found myself preferring the supporting characters rather than the main character. In this case, I really didn't think that Willie had many redeeming qualities. She was pretty terrible to the people who were trying to love her or be her friend (though they all seemed to grow more attractive to her as she began to see their goodness). I liked her better by the end of the book, but it took a while for me to feel that way.
My only issue with this book was the awkwardness with which Groff incorporated certain paranormal elements. The book, for the most part, reads like straight literature, in which a few of the otherworldly elements - the lake monster and the household ghost - didn't seem out of place. But there were other bits that seemed too over the top for the rest of the text. The overall tone of the book wasn't one of magical realism - to make it work better, the story either needed more of the magical elements or less of them.
Overall, a very enjoyable book. It's also a great choice for a bookclub - plenty to discuss. (*****)