Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Family history, sea monsters, small town life and a contemporary story all blend together in this wonderful debut novel from Lauren Groff.

Wille Upton, formerly a promising academic in the field of archaeology, returns to her hometown of Templeton, NY with her tail between her legs following a scandal with one of her professors. Here she is shocked to learn that her mother, Vi, a former hippie, has found religion, and drops a hint to Willie about the identity of her biological father. Rather than being one of three hippies, as Willie has always been told, she learns that her father actually resides in Templeton and is unaware that she is, in fact, his daughter. She sets out on a genealogical quest to discover her father. On the same day of Willie’s return, a gigantic prehistoric creature is pulled from the town lake, confirming the long-rumored existence of the “monster.”

Willie and her mother are the last stragglers in the line of a proud lineage of the original founder of the town, a prestigious fellow whom the town is named after. Willie reconnects with the small town characters of her past during her search for information. As Willie inches closer and closer to the identity of her father, she learns some shocking truths about her family and the town’s history, leaving her wondering who the “monsters” of Templeton really are.

Groff, like James Fenimore Cooper, grew up in Cooperstown, NY, and uses that as her model for Templeton. (Some of you Cooper fans might recognize her nod to him, who also named his fictional town Templeton in The Pioneers.) Her enthusiasm and obvious affection for the setting comes through in her writing making the town another character in the story. Alternating between Willie’s contemporary story and historical doings, with journal entries and old pictures thrown in for good measure, the story sings all the way through the book. The major problem I had with this book (with my weak short term memory) was that I had to keep referring back in order to remember who all of the historical figures were as it is so jam-packed with people and plot. The Monsters of Templeton is not only a great summertime read, it’s a busy book with plenty of plot twists and characters that will keep the reader invested any time of year.

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