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The Monsters of Templeton

Review

The Monsters of Templeton

Lauren Groff's wonderfully accomplished debut novel, THE
MONSTERS OF TEMPLETON, begins with a young woman, Wilhemina
("Willie") Upton, returning to her hometown of Templeton, New York,
in disgrace. Her years of bad decision-making when it comes to men
have culminated in an unwanted pregnancy, a near-death experience
and the ruin of her once-promising career. Willie comes back to her
mother Vivienne's home sheepishly, her own situation being
uncomfortably reminiscent of former hippie Vivienne's similar
return to Templeton years before, when she was pregnant with
Willie.

Willie had always been told that her father was unknown, that he
was one of three (or more) members of the free-love household
Vivienne had occupied in San Francisco during her wild teenage
years, that his name was now lost to the mists of time. Now,
though, Vivienne has discovered Jesus (thanks to the attractive and
charismatic preacher man she's now dating) and has decided it's
time to tell Willie the truth --- or at least part of it. It turns
out that Willie's father is actually right there in Templeton, a
man Willie has known her whole life. Vivienne draws the line at
telling Willie the man's name, though, but this teasing bit of
information gives Willie a new sense of purpose.

A former archaeology graduate student, Willie throws herself into
her research with aplomb, simultaneously setting off on a quest for
her roots and uncovering the skeletons hidden deep in the closets
of some of Templeton's most celebrated founding fathers and
mothers, from whom Willie and her dad are descended. As she spends
her days exploring her ancestor's life in the town archives and her
nights becoming re-acquainted with some of Templeton's current
denizens, Willie begins to paint a radically revised portrait of
herself and of the town that has shaped her.

Lauren Groff grew up in Cooperstown, New York, and Templeton is a
thinly-veiled version of that town made famous by a baseball museum
and by its most celebrated son, James Fenimore Cooper. Inspired by
Cooper himself (who also fictionalized Cooperstown as Templeton),
Groff infuses her novel with references to and characters from
Cooper's own works. The ambitious narrative switches back and forth
rapidly from present to past (as Willie's ancestors reveal their
histories in their own words), from the elevated style of the 18th
century to Willie's own self-deprecating, somewhat sarcastic
voice.

Groff's novel is whimsical and quirky --- how could it be anything
else when the novel opens with the removal of a large, mysterious
sea monster from the depths of Lake Glimmerglass? --- but it also
offers serious meditations on the formation of self and the
revision of history, whether institutional or personal.

"'I come home to Templeton because it's the only place in the world
that never changes, and I mean never, never changes, and
here's this half-dead lake,'" Willie observes. "'I always thought,
hey, if the ice caps melt and all the cities of the world are
swallowed up, Templeton will be fineā€¦. But it doesn't seem
right anymore. Does it?'" More so than her unborn child, more so
than her evolving relationship with her mother, it's her rapidly
shifting opinion of Templeton itself that throws Willie into crisis
--- and that eventually allows her to find, and claim, her own
identity.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 7, 2011

The Monsters of Templeton
by Lauren Groff

  • Publication Date: February 5, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 1401322255
  • ISBN-13: 9781401322250