Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
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's review
Apr 06, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: 2011, fiction, historical-fiction
Read in February, 2011 — I own a copy

There's a bit of everything in this book. It's a blend of fiction and history, myth and coming-of-age, investigative mystery and whodunnit. And the interesting thing about it is that, according to the Author's Note, she's not even the first person to write this story. She talks about James Fenimore Cooper, a 19th-century novelist, and wanting to write a love story about her home town, Cooperstown - which Cooper had pretty much already written. He renamed the town Templeton; so did Groff. Soon his characters "knocked on the door and joined the party." It's almost like two authors collaborating over time to rewrite a town's history - I kinda liked it.

The story is about Willie Cooper, our young, messy heroine with a bit of a temper and a penchant for making mistakes - having had an affair with her married professor while on an archeological dig in Alaska, she's been caught out by his jealous wife and fled home, all the while believing she's pregnant and facing becoming a single mother, just like her own mum, Vi. Her mother used to be a hippy, but now she's a born-again Christian with a guilty conscience: she lied to Willie about who her father is (having told her it could be one of three men she shared a love nest with in San Francisco back in the 70s). Yet she still can't come clean about Willie's father, instead telling her it's a man from town - thus giving Willie a mystery to uncover.

Meanwhile, on the very morning of Willie's return to Templeton, a dead monster floats in the lake, a giant blubbery thing that grips the town in a media frenzy. While Willie researches her ancestry back to the earliest settlement of Templeton, the lake monster is a recurring theme across the centuries. Yet who are the real monsters - the ugly creature that lurked in the depths, or the ugly truths lurking within the breasts of the town's famous figures?

I picked this up at Ellison Hawker Bookshop in Hobart back in February, after finishing the one book I'd brought with me and needing a new one to get me through the airports on the way back. I didn't recognise the book, the title or premise, but when I looked it up back home I realised I'd seen it around quite a bit, just with a different - and more distinctive - black, white and red cover. I finished it shortly after getting home, so it's been a month and a half and so I can only give you the points that have stuck with me.

There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed - namely, the chapters set in the past, told through the voices and eyes of the various "historical" figures, from the town's founder, Marmaduke Temple, to Sagamore, a native chief, and his white friend Hawkeye. We end up with a detailed tapestry of multiple narrators and a slowly unravelling secret. In comparison, there were plenty of times when I was disappointed in Willie, as a person - though her character flaws are understandable the more you come to know her oft-times crazy forebears.

Through the meandering mystery is that of the lake monster, who is the most tragic and lonely figure in the novel - and one you come to really feel for by the end. Quite a few of the individual stories really touched me, and made me want to hear more about these people - but it's a quilt, and each only gets their own small piece.

The other thing is that this novel is really quite long, longer than it needed to be I think. There are too many Willie chapters that felt like filler and didn't add to the story, and gave an over-all effect of waffling. I enjoyed the mystery, but it was certainly a very drawn-out one! It took me a while to get into it, and a while for it to really get going, but the things I enjoyed balanced the things I didn't care for. Ultimately, it was an ambitious, entertaining novel, slow at times but worth it in the long run.
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