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The Monsters of Templeton

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"Lauren Groff's debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton , is everything a reader might have expected from this gifted writer, and more . . . There are monsters, murders, bastards, and ne'er-do-wells almost without number. I was sorry to see this rich and wonderful novel come to an end."
--Stephen King "Lauren Groff hits a home run in her first at-bat, with a novel that is intriguingly constructed and compulsively readable."
--Denver Post "Groff's multilayered saga both thrills and delights with poignant, breathtaking prose."
--Entertainment Weekly (A) " The Monsters of Templeton , a fascinating first novel by Lauren Groff, is a book with joy in its marrow--fabulous."
--San Francisco Chronicle In the wake of a wildly disastrous affair with her married archaeology professor, Willie Upton arrives on the doorstep of her ancestral home in storybook Templeton, New York, looking to hide in the one place to which she swore she'd never come back. As soon as she arrives, though, a prehistoric monster surfaces in Lake Glimmerglass, changing the very fabric of the town. What's more, Willie's hippie-turned-born-again-Baptist mother, Vi, tells her a secret she's been hiding for nearly thirty that Willie's father 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 when past and present blur, dark mysteries come to light, and the shocking truth about more than one monster is revealed.

384 pages, Paperback

First published February 5, 2008

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About the author

Lauren Groff

51 books5,117 followers
Lauren Groff was born in Cooperstown, N.Y. and grew up one block from the Baseball Hall of Fame. She graduated from Amherst College and has an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Hobart, and Five Points as well as in the anthologies Best American Short Stories 2007, Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008.

She was awarded the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville, and has had residencies and fellowships at Yaddo and the Vermont Studio Center.

She lives in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband, Clay, and her dog, Cooper.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,898 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
July 8, 2018
yay!! my suspicions have been confirmed - i am officially not a book snob! i oscillate between thinking i might be a little bit of one, and that any forays i may make into teen fiction or silly bodice rippers that involve byron in some way are just accidents; flaws... on goodreads.com, i feel mostly like the dummy of the bunch, which is a totally comfortable and understandable place for me to be. but then at work, and in my readers advisory class, i feel like the biggest book elitist of all time. because they are all talking about their romance novelists and their chick-lit and cozy mysteries and COME ON!! these are future librarians!! one of the biggest no-nos in librarian school is to respect the patron and not look down on their reading choices, but it doesn't say anything about not judging your peers. so i do. and i felt like an asshole when they asked what i was reading, and i mumbled "oh the third part in this really complicated norwegian trilogy about television and what makes up the catalog of a life, told without a linear narrative, and no, it's good - it's like proust". blank faces.

but this book i really loved, and i was reading the reviews of it today here on goodreads.com, and so many people hated it for its lack of characterization or weak narrative but i honestly didn't notice anything like that in this. i noticed it big time in under the dome, but i thought this book was really fun, and had something interesting to say, which i did not think w/r/t mr. king. sorry, dude. i am very basic - i want a story told to me. do it whatever way you need to - be as roundabout as kjaerstad or proust, be as straightforward as steinbeck, but tell me a story and make it unique.

and i thought this story was great. it's about a woman unexpectedly pregnant by a man not her own, who returns to her hometown to figure out what to do about it, and then becomes preoccupied with her own family history (i.e. - who's her daddy??). did i mention her town has a lake monster? well, it does. and that is awesome.

i thought, when i was reading it, that it was a wonderful book, particularly a wonderful woman's-book, that covers motherhood, yes, but also the mother-daughter dynamic, sexual complications, nostalgia and rage. all good lady-feelings. dunno, i liked it, but i also like some zombie books - make your choices.

so officially not a snob, but still will never read harry potter...

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Chuckell.
67 reviews13 followers
February 19, 2008
Does this ever happen to you? When I read something, I generally hear the words pretty much spoken inside my head as I read them. Mostly . . . though sometimes, when I'm reading a truly great book, I start to feel that what I'm hearing inside my skull is more akin to music, almost, like some sort of lovely concerto version of the words on the page.

But then, sometimes, with not-so-great books, what I start to hear after I've been reading for a while is more of an irksome whine or a grating rumble, like the sound of a car being driven on a flat tire. And reading The Monsters of Templeton, I found my head filled with an ongoing screech, loudly interrupted by repeated painful jarring clanks as, every couple of pages, my eye was dragged across yet another brutally inapt metaphor or wince-inducing misuse of the poor English language.

This book has all the usual hallmarks of bad pretentious fiction--characters that the reader is told repeatedly are wickedly funny, though we're never so blessed as to hear one of them say anything witty. Modern-day characters with names like Primus Dwyer, Aristabulus Mudge, Zeke Felcher. Yes, Felcher. Oh, and Reverend John Melkovitch. Yes, John Melkovitch. Overlarded sentences. Obscure and utterly unpersuasive similes. Misused words. Patent absurdities given as plot points.

"She patted my hand, leaving cheese flakes on my fingers." Cheese . . . flakes?

". . . the streets, as familiar to us as the whorls in our own fingertips." I don't believe I have the slightest f. clue what my fingerprints look like. Do you?

Clarissa, who "could quote Nietszsche . . . was the most puntastic person I'd ever met," comes down with lupus, and they discuss "famous people who'd had it: Flannery O'Connor (A good disease is not hard to find, Clarissa had punned then. . . ." WHAT? That is not a pun.

"I looked into the mirror and saw that the pen I was chewing had exploded over my face, even dripping under my chin and onto my neck, and my teeth and tongue were stained, and that I, in my ignorance, had smeared black ink all over my cheeks and forehead." WHAT?!? Come on. Really. Could that happen?

The author seems not to know that there is kind of a big difference between a cross and a crucifix, and that the two words really can't be used interchangeably when the person wearing the cross is a protestant. She thinks that someone "dressed in a pink Polo shirt underneath a yellow sweater" would look "as yuppie as a person who was not a yuppie but wanted to look like a yuppie could look." Yuppie? Maybe it's been so long since anyone's heard that word that we've forgotten that yuppie and preppie are not the same thing? She thinks it's possible to punch someone and "split one of his teeth in two." Split? She thinks storms have epicenters. She thinks that "I called Clarissa for hours" is the same as "I talked on the phone with Clarissa for hours." She thinks the phrase "He began to write and write, with a promiscuity that's surprising. . . ." is somehow sensible. Her narrator repeatedly--repetitively, even--tells us what a tough smart cookie she is, yet she somehow never manages to question her mother's assertion that she was born after ten and a half months in the womb.

Oh, sheesh, I could go on and on. But I'll cut myself short and give out this advice: Don't read it.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,295 reviews120k followers
May 30, 2017
The author, a native of Cooperstown, NY has written a love tale to her town, renamed Templeton. The name was a nom de place used by James Fenimore Cooper for the town in his book The Pioneers. Wilhelmina (Willie) Upton has returned to town, pregnant, distraught, at a turning point in her life. Her mother had kept from her the name of her father, substituting a fable that fit the era of her conception. But Vi, her mother, is willing to offer hints, leaving it to Willie to apply her research skills to complete the task. This quest provides the structure for the novel, as Willie peels back layer after layer of the town’s history in search of her father. The characters and stories she turns up cover centuries, from the time the first white man decided to make a town at this location to Willie’s present day experiences. The characters are often (but not always) interesting and surprising. Groff offers a sufficient supply of the unexpected to keep the tale interesting and the story moving forward.

Lauren Groff - image from Squarebooks.com

The central image of the story is the monster of Templeton. Of course the real monsters are some of the humans who lived there. The monster serves as pretty much a purely literary device. What lies hidden grows over time into something substantial. Once a secret is exposed, new secrets take its place. This is not a sci-fi or horror story by any stretch, although there are occasional elements of the supernatural.

I enjoyed the book, although I did not love it. There were too many characters to give more than a few of them real life, and Groff spreads her attention widely. Groff has been a short story writer and this book reflects that skill. Like Louse Erdrich’s Plague of Doves, it does sometimes seem as if the author was looking for a way to weave together a few disparate elements. Overall, a nice read. I believe she will write tighter books in future and I am looking forward to those.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
Profile Image for Katie.
268 reviews335 followers
September 13, 2016
I finally abandoned this with only sixty pages to go. Abandoned it without learning the answer to the central question the book asks – who was my father? Because I realised I just couldn’t care. And because I was unable to distinguish most of the many characters from each other despite spending 400 pages with them so it didn’t matter who the father was.

Family trees are fascinating. I love that programme Who do you think you are? We’d all like to know much more about our ancestors. To discover the long succession of complex twists of fate that enabled us to finally get born. To find out who her father is Willie Upton, the narrator, will trace her family history back to the founding fathers of the town she was born in.

The novel begins with a great sentence – “The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the 50 foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.” However, the only really significant purpose of this monster in the novel is to provide that eye-catching first line. There’s a ghost which is equally dramatic as possibility and pointless as a device. In fact, she throws in everything except the kitchen sink. There’s so much going on in this novel that it began to simply induce a feeling of exhaustion.

This was pure whimsy and over-exuberance from the word go. The premise of the entire novel is whimsical. A mother tells her daughter she does know who her father is despite claiming throughout her life that she didn’t but isn’t going to tell her who it is; she wants her daughter to research the conundrum. What we then get are a series of preposterous documents, testaments, portraits – a kind of dream succession of genealogical artefacts that explain every ancestor in his or her own words. Groff here tries her hand at David Mitchell style ventriloquism and fails miserably. All her characters, no matter what century or class or ethnicity they belong to speak in the same exuberant whimsical voice. They soon begin to blur into each other. Eventually I felt the whimsy employed was in large part to disguise the lack of artistry of this overly exuberant novel. It felt like the novel a precocious twelve year old girl with too much mental energy might write.

I think this was too ambitious for a first novel. It's motored by youthful exuberance rather than mental rigour. I found myself wondering if she wasn't under the spell of Krauss and Foer and David Mitchell before writing this. They were all the rage back then. I got the sense of a young writer imitating these writers in a struggle to find her own voice. And for me neither the quirkiness of Krauss/Foer nor the symphonic ventriloquism of Mitchell suits her. In Arcadia she goes back to basics. Straightforward storytelling without any post modernism pretence and I think this is the form that most suits her gift. For me, she’s not really an innovative writer. At least not yet. Her principle gift is she can write so well.

In conclusion, all I can say is thank heavens Groff gave up fancying herself as a comedian when she wrote her next two novels.
Profile Image for Libby.
80 reviews77 followers
March 28, 2008
Oops, I forgot to add this to "Currently Reading" while I was reading it. That is my fatal Goodreads flaw.

Anyway, I breezed through this book in a couple of days; it is a very quick, smooth read, heavy on plotting, which keeps the pages turning. However, I think its self-seriousness undermines its credibility, oddly. In the end, I found the book awfully pretentious. The pretense in question? Pretending to be "serious literature."

The novel revolves around grad-student-gone-wild Willie Upton, who has slunk back to her ancestral home, Templeton, disgraced and in shame. Once at home she sets off on a geneaological quest to establish her own paternity. And, oh yeah, on the day she arrives, a giant "monster" surfaces, dead, on the lake of her hometown. Groff models Templeton on Cooperstown, NY, and appropriates many of James Fenimore Cooper's characters for her novel--so all us one-time English majors can geek out to our hearts' delight (first sign of a serious work of fiction, right? Intertextuality!). The novel deals with the big themes: family, history, the "ghosts" of the past, secrets, shame, what it means to be an adult, mortality, loss, etc. Or at least it tries to.

The book is packaged and billed as serious literature, and it's clear that the author sees her work this way, too. The writing is filled with purple adjectives and extreme hyperbole vis a vis the most mundane of emotions and events. The novel wants to explore the meaningfulness of everyday life, and it relies heavily on bloated metaphors (see the title) to convey this. Groff (the author) uses a lot of telescoping, as well--too much, in fact--to underscore the reach of history across time, and it is grating and begins to feel self-conscious. Every other word in this novel seems to be "glory" or "glorious", and every chapter ends on a suitably "haunting" and lyrical note. There are about seven hundred descriptions of Lake Glimmerglass, and these especially indicate the limits of Groff's reach. I feel for the lady; clearly there are only so many ways to describe a lake, right? But here's the thing: when your shit gets repetitive, find a new way or QUIT.

The narrative consists of multiple perspectives and voices, almost all of which I found totally unconvincing. (The Running Buds? C'mon.) At novel's end, when the resolution to the plot reveals itself to be highly anticlimactic, I looked back on the various narrative elements and couldn't help but feel that much of it was filler. These aren't human beings populating the pages, but very convincing paper dolls. Yawn.

My feeling is that this book offers up a lot of what much contemporary lit. is missing: fun. It has a sexy premise, as well as, as I said, a plot-centric narrative, and because it's written in an (overly) lyrical prose-style, smart people can feel unembarrassed to read it. Apparently, this is the new criterion for a starred Publishers Weekly review.
Profile Image for Lorna.
681 reviews366 followers
October 22, 2021
The Monsters of Templeton was the debut novel by Lauren Groff that was at its core, an ode and tribute to her hometown of Cooperstown, New York. The author states her wishes in the Author's Note as follows:

"One winter when I was an adult and very far from my hometown, I'd awaken every night, heartsore, haunted by my dreams of my calm little lake. I missed my village the way I'd miss a person. This book came from that long, dark winter; I wanted to write a love story for Cooperstown."

"My Templeton is to Cooperstown as a shadow is to the tree that spawned it; an outline that takes texture from the ground it falls on."

And what a sprawling tale of this fictional town of Templeton that is told through the exploration of five generations of the Temple and Upton families complete with photographs taken over the years. There is also the literature of James Fenimore Cooper that bubbles up at different points in this saga, including characters from the Leatherstocking series such as Natty Bumppo, Chingachgook and Chief Uncas.

At the heart of this story is the return of Wilhimena Sunshine Upton, a bright and free-spirited 28 year-old graduate student in archaeology from Stanford University, returning home in a state of disgrace as she tries to put her life together. I found myself captivated with the myriad of characters throughout this incredible tale. In fact, the book opens with this paragraph:

"The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass. It was one of those strange purple dawns thtat color July there, when the bowl made by the hills fills with a thick fog and even the songbirds sing timorously, unsure of day or night."

I found the book an ambitious undertaking for a debut novel but one needs to know going into this book that there is a lot of history, fiction and fantasy as well as five generations of characters coming together in very different and interesting ways that at times can be overwhelming. Willie does a lot of research at the local Templeton library as well as exploring all that is in her childhood home Averell Cottage. The story is told through the discovery of key library documents, newspaper articles, correspondence and books as she pieces the mysteries of her family history as well as her own. I loved this book for a lot of reasons. And it solidified for me why Lauren Groff is coming to be known as "the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Gainesville."

And in closing, one of my favorite quotes from the book that captures Wilhemina's love of books, and perhaps mine as well:

"When I was small and easily wounded, books were my carapace. If I were recalled to my hurts in the middle of a book, they somehow mattered less. My corporeal life was slight; the dazzling one in my head was what really mattered. Returning to books was coming home."
Profile Image for Peggy.
267 reviews65 followers
December 21, 2007
God, sometimes I love my job! I commute two hours to and from work every day, and given current traffic conditions in the Austin area, you can go ahead and add at least another half hour to my drive home. I'll sometimes stop and grab a burger for dinner, going through the drive-through and then sitting in the parking lot to eat. I always have a book in the car, so this gives me a little uninterrupted reading time while I finish my burger.

Most times, this takes 20-30 minutes. But every once in a while I hit a book that grabs hold and won't let go. Currently, that's Lauren Groff's debut novel The Monsters of Templeton.

I loved the cover as soon as I saw it, and when I read the < a href=http://www.hyperionbooks.com/titlepag... copy, I knew I had to read it. A couple of chapters in and I was gone, completely caught up in Templeton and its denizens, past and present. I was as eager as Willie to unravel her tangled family history, and logic lost all hold on me:

[Logic] You should get going.

[Me] (muttered while reading) Um hmm.

[Logic] You've still got 75 miles to go.

[Me] Um hmm.

[Logic] You can read the book when you get home.

[Me] Um hmm.

[Logic] You're not even listening to me, are you. You're just going to keep reading until you finish the book, and we won't get home until eleven o'clock. The cats are gonna be pissed, you know.

[Me] Um hmm.

[Logic] *sigh*

I came to myself an hour later, with tears in my eyes and a big, goofy grin on my face, thinking that I couldn't wait to tell someone about this amazing book.

It's part domestic novel, part historical fiction, and part mystery, with a dash of the supernatural for flavor. It's sad and funny and sweet and somehow realistic and dreamy at the same time. Stephen King compares the book to Ray Bradbury's work, and I have to agree. There's something in this story that just slips past my logic and connects with me, and Bradbury has that same effect.

As if this wasn't enough, it's also closely tied in to the works of James Fenimore Cooper (Templeton was a pseudonym that Cooper himself used for Cooperstown). I'm not familiar enough with Cooper's work to judge the accuracy with which this material is tied in, but I can say that for someone unfamiliar with Cooper, it worked just fine.
Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews654 followers
July 16, 2016

Author Lauren Groff gives the reader a modern story, a fantasy and an historical fiction story all within her tale of Willie, returned to her family home, who embarks on a quest to find the identity of her real father. There is also a mythical lake monster and a resident ghost and while other writers may stagger under the weight of such scope, Groff juggles all story lines reasonably well. It is narrated partly in the third person by two main characters, in first person narrations of ancestors and via diaries, letters and family tree diagrams.

Willie is also dealing with the break-up of an affair, she has tried to run over her College professor’s wife in a plane, an unwanted pregnancy and her best friend who has advanced case of Lupus. So, you can see, Willie has her hands full and as the reader, we also have our hands/brains full. While I loved Groff's Arcadia and joyfully plunged into the words each time I picked up the book, The Monsters Of Templeton was not a similar experience. As the storyline grew, I felt more befuddled; so many characters speaking, diaries, letters, chapters undated – aaaah. At the three quarter stage of the novel, I had to push myself to finish and this was only because I needed to confirm if my guess who was Willie's father had been correct (and it was!) Oh Lauren, it's difficult for me to say that this novel is average but average it is. Generously, maybe over generously, I'm rating this 3★.
Profile Image for Eva Celeste.
196 reviews14 followers
November 12, 2011
Maybe it helps to read mediocre books so you truly appreciate a good book when it crosses your path. 1 star=unreadable, 2 stars=sorry to have wasted the time but did actually finish it, 3 stars is a notch above that and hey, that's not bad for a first-time author.

My complaints include: a plot that is driven by an only mildly compelling question, tons of subplots that have nothing to do with the main question and are boring distractions, poorly written fictional historical documents....I got the feeling the author was desperately trying to pad the novel with prose even she couldn't have found compelling.

Also, it is incumbent upon an author who writes with constant, intentional reference to a certain setting to give us the appropriate sense of place through their writing, not just say the place is important or interesting and to expect the reader to fall in line and agree without proof. I got very little sense of why I was supposed to care about Templeton, except it had a lake, baseball tourists, and a lot of (boring) family history for the narrator.

On a final note, the revelation of the narrator's true father, and how that came to pass- and also how it was not revealed or even realized by the man in question for decades-is ridiculous.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,909 followers
February 13, 2012
You wouldn't know it unless she told you, but this is Lauren Groff's wacky love letter to Cooperstown, NY, where she grew up. If you really want to enjoy this book, it's best to relax and just accept it all in a spirit of playfulness. It's a wild and goofy collage full of secrets and pretend secrets and mostly benign 'monsters' and ghosts.

Willie Upton returns home to Templeton after a doomed relationship goes awry. After she settles in, her mother Vivienne tells her that the story she's always believed about her absent father is a lie. Willie sets out on a month-long genealogical quest to discover who her father is, based on Vivienne's hints. Along the way, Willie uncovers a heap of wild secrets and crazy rumors about the early inhabitants of Templeton. She has to keep revising her family tree to include changelings and scoundrels.

This is an unconventional novel. It jumps around a bit as the various historical figures tell their tales, and it flips in and out of reality. But it's all done with such heart and humor that I didn't mind the wonky style. You even get to see pictures of the 'ancestors' with amusing captions.
Profile Image for Jamie.
142 reviews239 followers
June 13, 2008
I won't lie. I'm reluctant to give this book four stars...but, you see, I have to, because I DID get up early to read it and I did stay up until two a.m. on a weeknight. Heck, if I'm being honest, while I did not stay home specifically FOR finishing this book, it made what would have been a pretty crap day enjoyable.
But still, I'm hesitant to recommend it. I have this suspicion most of my friends wouldn't get through it. It was, at different points, many things: novice, tricky to follow, going, plot-wise, in a million directions--Sometiems I had to flip back to remember who the hell was who, and, above all, it was kind of unbelievable...well, truly unbelievable. BUT, I didn't get it to be believable, I got it to be entertaining, and so it was...in the same way those Lifetime movies draw you in. It's not real life--there's an EDGE of real, and in a few years, this lady might really, really be something.
And, don't get me wrong: it's not that she employed the weird tactic of having a real monster in her book. I dug the monster, it was that she employed a lot of little faulty tactics to keep things chuggin': the pictures of family members on each chapter's cover page (which, I would flip back to look at, so it wasn't pointless, BUT, I did think, serveral times "why do I keep looking? These are just flea market photos this chick found at Alameda or something." So, the tactic worked and didn't. Hard to say, huh?
I also feel compelled to mention, I am and nearly always have been, a huge history dork. Like, for instance, history tests weren't so much annoying to study for, but fun, because I like periods, dresses, goings-ons, etc. So it's quite possible this book might just be trash to someone who's not so dorky about the civil war and/or community museums. Because...this was a little like walking through the Elizabeth Roszier gallery (which is, ahem, the local community gallery in my home town in Missouri.)
I also hated that Willie's name was something as unusual as Wilhilmina, and nobody said where here American, exhippie mom had yanked it from. There were also parts that read more like short stories I wrote when i was in middle school (but, I couldn't write a four hundred page novel that makes someone get up early in the morning, and she did, so maybe I ought to shut up).
Oh, boo. I'm such a black and white kind of gal, it's hard for me to say that this book was good and awful, but that's all I can do. It's quite an accomplishement, it is--it was a fun read, interesting, but I would be lying if I said I found the chracters and/or relationships feesible, or that I didn't spend a LOT of time with my brow furrowed thinking, "really? This many characters or THAT name seemed unworthy of some explaination?"
It was quite an well woven story though. It was, it was. I mean, it all checked out like a good episode of Matlock, but...it also was kind of like reading something self-published...a little pedantic, sort of overly ambitious for what I assume to be a first full length novel...A little Crash topics in Calamity Physics--good, but...not with out room for improvement.
**To borrow this authors tactic, I am leaving a side: By comparing to CTiCP I hope it is noted that this book is NOT as good as the latter. Just has some similarities and flights of whimsy.
Profile Image for Forrest.
Author 41 books709 followers
January 5, 2013
About my relationship with The Monsters of Templeton . . . it's complicated.

Before we met, I had heard a wide range of opinions about the book. Now, my tastes lean toward the obscure. I don't tend to read the popular ones and I have a bit of prejudice toward them. "If it's that popular, it can't be that good," I will sometimes (mistakenly) reason. And this book, well, this book had gotten around. The town of Goodreads had been gossiping about this one for a while, with opinions ranging from "it's amazing" to "it's a rank pretender". But I saw something as I looked across the room at that pretty, complex cover. And as the voices babbled on around me about the book, I was intrigued. "This is not my normal cup of tea," I told myself. "Heck, this might even be chic-lit. Still . . ."

So we made the acquaintance. I was smitten by the first paragraph:

The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass. It was one of those strange purple dawns that color July there, when the bowl made by the hills fills with a thick fog and even the songbirds sing timorously, unsure of day or night.

"This relationship has promise," I said to myself.

But as I read the rest of the chapter, I became confused and disconcerted. The author seemed in too much of a rush, too eager to get information out. Frankly, she talked too much. I sat back, disappointed, but I had gotten myself into this mess, so I decided to play it through until I could find an easy exit from this uncomfortable situation.

Then I read the last couple pages of the chapter and I became, again, intrigued. The last paragraph affected me deeply:

That morning, before I drew my hand away from the monster, I felt an overwhelming sadness, a sudden memory of one time in high school when I slipped to the country club docks at midnight with my friends, and, giggling, naked, we went into the dark star-stippled water, and swam to the middle of the lake. We treaded water there in the blackness, all of us fallen silent in the feeling of swimming in such perfect space. I looked up and began to spin. The stars streaked circular above me, my body was wrapped in the warm black, my hands had disappeared, my stomach was no longer, I was only a head, a pair of eyes. As I touched the beast I remembered how, even on that long-ago night, I could feel a tremendous thing moving in the depths below me, something vast and white and singing.

So here I was, left to process my feelings about the chapter, on the cusp of a decision: Should I continue, or not? Most of the chapter felt truly shoved in-between those two exquisite paragraphs. The author was "trying" too hard. It was like a Dagwood Bumstead sandwich bookended by the most expensive artisan bread.

I decided to give the benefit of the doubt. Yes, this book already showed some flaws, but I wanted to see the beauty in it, which might have been accentuated by the opening and closing paragraphs' foil against the muddled middle. There is no such thing as a flawless book, I reasoned, and the good parts were so good that the thought of potentially missing more gems made me throw caution to the wind and dive in, head over heels.

I became fascinated by the complexity of the book. As I said in the beginning, my relationship with this book is complicated. There are several distinct voices in this work, many of them speaking from historical documents and journals dug up by the narrator, Willie Upton, in her quest to discover the identity of her biological father.

One of my favorite voices is that of Sarah Franklin Temple Upton, a progenitor of Willie's who struggles with hallucinogenic schizophrenic episodes like this one:

. . . days pass, days pass, dark then light, Templeton glowing in the fog, the brilliance of noon . . . the little shrill girl is back, makes me want to bludgeon my head with a carpet beater until she's out . . . so many ghosts in the water I see now, every day I go down, press my ear close to the water until I drench the small hairs on the lobe . . . beseeching, mournful. The men have bloated skin, and the women's hair has come loose and floats cloudlike behind them, sunnies and pumpkinseed-fish scattered in it . . . a man with my father's face, wrists blooming roses of blood . . . two brothers with frosted lashes and lips, ice skates on their feet, pounding at the surface as if it were glass . . . small Indian girl who looks at me with serene and unforgiving eyes as she floats, naked, bruises like plums on her thighs . . . soldier in olive drab, the stumps of his legs looking tender as a baby's skin . . . young men in boater-hats, young women in tight waists and bellish skirts from before the Civil War . . . summer-camp children with crude leather bracelets on their wrists . . . fat old ice fisherman . . . parachutist from my childhood, the man who leapt from the plane at the County Fair, but his water, not land, whose chute settled on the lake like a flower, filled with the water, dragged him under before the boats could reach him. Yes: every day I see more of them, the drowned ones. It is perhaps not madness: they are so clear, and I am not terrified by them. Is it? I don't know . . .

Of course, I always seem to like the crazies in literature. And there are plenty of crazies in this book. Notice that the title is plural: Monsters. The beast of the opening paragraph is not the only monster in this book. Though the lake-monster trope (along with the ongoing presence of a quiet, seemingly beneficial ghost) gives the work a feel that hints of magic realism, most of the truly inimical monsters are of the human variety. That's not to say that the book is laden with sadness and madness. There are a lot of bright spots, too, a balance of naive optimism and critical pessimism, with characters, situations, and reactions running the gamut in-between. Like I've said, it's complicated.

I was taken in by the variety of voices presented throughout. My biggest concern, the area where I needed to apply the most forgiveness to our relationship, had to do with documentation. The book jumps back and forth between Willie Upton's narration and the documents she discovers in here research. This is fine. But interpolated in the book are several accounts told from different POVs that belong neither to Willie or to those who wrote the documents I've mentioned. Granted, these narratives are told in the voice of the illiterate: Hetty Averell, a slave girl who integrates herself into the family tree, Chief Chingachgook, a native American who figures prominently in the history of Willie's ancestors and who has a profound influence on her research. So one could look past their undocumented stories. But these tales, so "out of the blue," caused me to step back in alarm. It was only after convincing myself that I needed to be a little forgiving of these quirks that I could settle back into the flow of things. Several times throughout the book, I asked myself "where is this coming from"? Sometimes, my reaction bordered on "I don't know you!" but I was, ultimately, able to reconcile things. Still, these episodes left a bit of a taint on my relationship with the book.

Despite these shortcomings, I continued to find some sparkling gems, particularly in the book's strangest passages. Maybe it's the fantasist in me, the lover of magic realism and speculative fiction. Near the end the author fully embraces the speculative (though the speculative elements are NOT the primary driver in this work) by having the main character fully embraced by the supernatural:

My legs moved without me, and I watched them climb the stairs in horror. Foot above foot, so clumsy, as if whatever was in me had forgotten what it was to walk. I felt the eyes of my ancestors, all those pictures, fall on me. As I moved past the guest bathroom I managed a glimpse of myself, and saw my features were dark and veiled. I knew then it was my good ghost, the indirect watcher over my life, that had for now slipped around me. I'd become the yolk in the egg; I'd become one human bone, my body at the marrow and the ghost surrounding it, tense as flesh.

I was impressed, proud even, of the way The Monsters of Templeton allayed my fears that this would be, in any way, dumb chic-lit. It is not. But it is not full-fledged fantasy, either, not by a long shot. It is a mystery, a novel about relationships and fear and friendships and love and redemption and discovery and the search for who we are. Structurally, it is a historical memoir, a fictional autobiography punctuated with biographies. Atmospherically, it is smart chic-lit, a touch funny, magically real, with a narrator as complex as her family history, as complex as the history of the town in which the book is set. It is strange, quirky, at turns brooding dark and blindingly bright, it is an enigma, a puzzle. And I, yes, I'll say it, I love puzzles.
Profile Image for Trin.
1,783 reviews558 followers
May 1, 2008
Willie Upton returns in disgrace to her hometown of Templeton, New York (a very thinly disguised Cooperstown) and starts trying to unravel a family mystery that, seeing as Willie is a descendant of Marmaduke Temple, the founder of the town, is intimately intertwined with the history of the entire community.

I really thought I was going to like this book. History and mystery and research! Weird, magical realism touches like the discovery of a monster in the lake! Multiple points of view, including samples of “historical documents”! And yet—I never believed in it: not the community, and not the characters. We’re told Willie is brilliant, and yet she not only goes about her investigation in a frustratingly slow way, she fails at basic math. (Not to mention becomes convinced she’s pregnant and yet NEVER GOES TO A DOCTOR OR TAKES A PREGNANCY TEST.) There are a slew of other ridiculous details the reader is expected to swallow, too: I mean, I will accept a prehistoric sea monster living in upstate New York (Champ is TOTALLY REAL, yo), but I simply cannot believe in a character named Ezekiel Felcher. Yes, FELCHER.

There’s also just something about the narrative that simply…lacks energy. Unlike the similarly-constructed The Rotters’ Club, which practically cracks and sparks off its pages, The Monsters of Templeton just sort of lies there. I felt no zip, no kineticism—no joy. Groff says in the forward that she’s in a sense writing a love letter to her town, but I never really felt that love. I can all-too-easily get caught up in small-town nostalgia—I grew up in one, and the right combination of words or sounds or smells can instantly make me forget all the bad things and remember instead some Ray Bradbury-esque version of the village green, the waterfall over the river, the old mill buildings, the big white church spire. But none of that was here. I got no sense of the layout or the character of the town at all.

Instead, I got Ezekiel Felcher. Yes, FELCHER. Excuse me while I fail to get over that.
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
584 reviews4,724 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
January 23, 2021
Made it 2/3 of the way through, skimmed the rest. How this was written by the same author as the breathtaking Fates and Furies I'LL NEVER KNOW.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
December 20, 2018
In my reviews of Lauren Groff's later novels, Arcadia and Fates and Furies, I posited that Groff's writing is at its best when plot is de-emphasized; it's when she starts focusing on plot in a more conventional sense that things begin to go downhill. Nowhere is this more true than in her first novel, The Monsters of Templeton. This novel has plot coming out of its ears! So much plot, piling up everywhere!

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem for me; I'm a shameless lover of plot. Here, though, it's just too much—we've got our main character, Willie, coming back to her childhood home in Templeton, NY, after making a shameful mess out of her life; we've got her born-again Christian mother, Vi, and Vi's new boyfriend, a reverend; we've got a search for a biological father and lots and lots of historical background and lots of details on present-day townspeople and a strange, massive creature that just shows up in the lake one day and (takes breath) a best friend with a grave disease, and a ghost in the bedroom. It's a lot, and most of it is utterly unnecessary. Which leads to the question... what in this novel actually is necessary? Not a whole lot, actually!

Take the novel's central storyline: Willie, a 30-year-old grad student, comes home to Templeton and learns from her mother, Vi, that Willie is in fact NOT the product of a polyamorous hippie situation that left the identity of her father a mystery (as Vi has always maintained). No, Vi knows who Willie's father is, and he lives right there in Templeton, and Willie actually knows him. But Vi won't tell Willie who he is! Why not, you ask? Well, if she told her, it would be a pretty short book, wouldn't it? So Vi, truly a candidate for world's worst mom, makes Willie figure it out for herself. Instead of going around to all the likely suspects (men of a certain age) in town and asking if they'd ever slept with her mother, Willie decides to start... researching the town's founders and working forward through the next 150 years. This makes zero sense but allows Groff to cram in all sorts of historical stuff (letters, diaries, illustrations, family trees, etc.), none of which ends up being the slightest bit relevant. Indeed, I figured out who the father was on page 146, from one sentence in a present-day section. I think the point was that the reader was supposed to be as fascinated with the town (a fictionalized Cooperstown) as Groff herself is. Well, I wasn't!

And don't even get me started on Willie. What a horrible person and a total dumbass. I hated her! First, she comes to town thinking she's pregnant with her married lover's child. Then she Well, like I said, she's a dumbass. Besides, if she had taken one the novel would be that much shorter, wouldn't it? Can't be having that!

Willie is also MEAN AF. She is particularly obsessed with people's weight and if she deems someone overweight she will mention it as many times as humanly possible (Willie herself is quite thin, and don't worry, if you forget that for even a second the book will remind you). She reconnects with a guy from high school who used to be fat, and who used to be called a cruel nickname by other students. He's thin now, but Willie still calls him by that nickname, 12 years later, to his face! Why? Because she's an asshole, that's why. She also goes back and forth between revering her quaint & quirky hometown and disdaining everyone in it as provincial "townies." And because she's 3 years old at heart, she constantly refers to her mother's boyfriend, Reverend Melkovich, as "Reverend Milky." If you think that's unfunny now, wait until you've heard it 50 times!

Meanwhile the real curiosity of the book, the huge monster pulled from the lake, ends up being an afterthought. What a bait and switch! You think you're going to hear about a massive, fascinating creature, and instead you just end up having to listen to the smallest, most boring person imaginable. Feh!
Profile Image for Sean.
40 reviews11 followers
April 3, 2008
I had fairly high hopes for this being a fun, quality read. Nuh-uh. It has more than a slight whiff of 'chick lit fluff' about it unfortunately. While her descriptions have visual flair, the overall tone of this novel is cutesy and contrived. The multiple narrative perspectives seem forced, with several just feeling like tacked-on filler (ex: the running group. hello/why?) The main character is ultimately confronted (gently, of course!) as being the self-absorbed, spoiled brat/snob that she clearly is. But ultimately we're supposed to find her 'quirky and lovable'. Ha. She is breathtakingly narcissistic. Thus making her impossible to sympathize with, let alone tolerate the longer you're around her. Likewise annoying is the author's (at first, well-intentioned) gushing nostalgia for her hometown (aka, Cooperstown, NY). That treacly faucet becomes so repetitive as to be a deal-breaker right there. Yes, you have extreme affection for "Templeton" = We. Get. It. Equally repetitive is the fact that virtually every character has some (again) lovable quirk which makes him or her warm fuzzy nice/tractor beam likable. Frothy, yes. Bearable, no. The needlessly added elements of psychic events and fantastical creatures are distracting and only further the 'kitchen sink' feel of the story as a whole.

At several points, I resisted my gut response to chuck this book across the room. I really should've listened. The only reason I didn't is that it's fast reading. On nearly every page there's at least one groaner example of cloying, self-satisfied writing. The author refuses to throw even one hard punch at her characters. Lord forbid the main one - who continually gets the easy-out at every turn. Shocker, I know. Honestly, this ultimately reads like a calculated attempt at fishing for a romantic comedy film offer. She'd be lucky if The Lifetime Channel were tempted to take this hokey bait. (Think "Desperate Non-Housewives" meets "Picket Fences".)
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,300 followers
October 8, 2013
IDK if i would have ever picked this up, but Karen is a very persuasive bookdate.

And I'm so glad! This book is really lovely. Sensual, lush language; well-developed, totally relatable characters; a plot that is exciting and challenging, and on and on.

As always, the fact that I am a quick and uncareful reader prevented me from really following all the historical personages and twisty intrigue, and I probably missed a few "Aha!" moments, but that didn't stop me from loving being along for the ride. Super pleased I read this, and I would totally read more Lauren Groff when it happens. Thanks Karen!

Oh and also: I gave this book to my mom immediately after finishing it, and she loved it too! I'm always trying to push weird arty pomo books I love on her, obstinately refusing to believe that she'll hate them (which of course she always does). But a book like this is one of the places where our tastes intersect. Yay!
Profile Image for Quirkyreader.
1,514 reviews41 followers
November 18, 2017
What can I say about this book. It is many things in one. It is a mystery, family drama, historical fiction, romance, and cryptozoology all tied up in a lovely package. And very enjoyable to read.

The story opens with two plot lines. First a young woman comes home to a place she never wanted to see again. And second, a creature is found floating dead in a lake. Then the whole story diverges into a hot mess, but it is a beautiful hot mess.

Even Big Steve (A.K.A. Stephen King) enjoyed this story. And usually Big Steve is right on the money.

Saying anymore I might spoil the story, which I don't want to do.
Profile Image for Wendy.
84 reviews8 followers
August 4, 2009
If Willie Upton were a real woman, I would kick her ass. I considered drop-kicking this book across the room, but I have too much respect for literature. However, I define "literature" quite loosely in this case.

I had all sorts of issues with this book, but my primary beef is with Willie Upton, a Stanford archeology PhD candidate and the main character. She goes away to Alaska with her professor and a group of Harvard guys to search for the oldest human on the continent. She has an affair with her dorky professor and right as they make their discovery, the professor's wife shows up. Willie tries to run her over with an airplane and ends the afternoon by running home to her mother, thinking she is pregnant. Okay, I remember the true story of the NASA astronaut that drove cross country in a diaper, to kill her fling's wife or girlfriend, but still, how realistic is it for an intelligent woman with everything going for her to lose her mind and f-up her life because she is boning the a-hole professor? Come on! Willie is the ONLY woman to go on this excursion, the only one invited EVER and she screws the professor and runs home to her mother, knocked up and crying? What a shameful representation of a weak woman in hysterics. Excuse me while I wipe this bustle off my ass!

Then, to make matters worse, she doesn't take a pregnancy test or see a doctor (remember we are talking about a PhD at Stanford here) and can't decide if she is going to keep her baby or not. I was getting really angry at this part, because I thought our author, Lauren Groff, was about to make a statement about abortion. Given that she had already made her main character into a stereotypical raging hormone, I wasn't liking the statement I suspected she was about to make. However, she wimped out of it altogether and instead gave her pseudocyesis, better known as "false pregnancy." So our Stanford PhD basically made the whole thing up. Uhm sorry Lauren, but next time you write a book call me and I will lend you my DSMIV. Your girl Willie doesn't fit the profile for someone that would happen to. Plus, it made me, as a reader, hate Willie even more.

Of course, this book had more to it than Willie being a complete disgrace to her gender, but a lot of that didn't make sense either. I often wondered why characters were introduced and why the hell they had certain shit going on with them. What does Lupus have to do with anything, for example? I understand a writer uses people she knows and her own experience to write pretty much everything and I suspect that's what happened, but Ms. Lauren needed to drop some baggage on this one.

I give it two stars, because at least the monster was sorta cool... sorta.
Profile Image for Maggie.
124 reviews5 followers
March 3, 2008
Wilhelmina ("Willie") Upton - a promising graduate student at Standford University - has fled back to her small, historic hometown of Templeton, New York "steeped in disgrace." The affair with her married grad school mentor has been found out, and, now pregnant with his illegitimate child, she hopes to find solace in her mother, Vivian ("Vi") Upton - a woman whose footsteps Willie has unwittingly fallen into. Herself a child of the free-loving 1960s, Vi had always told Willie that she is the product of one of the many lovers she took while living in a San Francisco hippie commune, but when Willie returns home Vi thinks it best that she finally tell her daughter the truth about her parentage. In an attempt to take her mind off of her own unraveling life, Vi partially lets Willie in on the long-kept secret of her heritage - that she is not a result of "any one of three random hippies in a San Francisco commune," but rather the illegitimate daughter of some "random Templeton man." Thinking it best that Willie have a task to keep her occupied in her time of emotional duress, Vi refuses to reveal this man's identity, but instead insists that Willie solve the mystery for herself. The novel that follows is made up of the random snatches of genealogical research, generational family rumors and gossip, and historical documents Willie digs up to help piece together the epic story that is her family's history, and - most importantly - to discover the true identify of the father who shared her hometown but whom she never knew.

The "monsters" in The Monsters of Templeton are numerous and varied. The day of Willie's homecoming also happens to be the day when the fabled lake monster of the town's Lake Glimmerglass dies, its fifty-foot fish corpse rising to the surface to finally end the several-hundred-year-long debate over its existence. There is an actual ghost that haunts Willie's bedroom, and who occasionally emerges to help her in her quest. And, of course, there are various human monsters who are unmasked as Willie unravels the thread of her family history to reveal betrayal, murder, rape, countless affairs and loads of intrigue. As a whole, the novel is part mystery, part historical fiction, part magical realism, and only partly successful.

Obviously, when you pick up a book knowing that one of its characters is a giant lake monster, you don't really go into it expecting absolute realism, but even still one of my criticisms of the novel is that some of the twists in the plot are too easily arrived at. For instance, when Willie reaches a dead-end in her search, her mother - *tada!* - suddenly remembers owning a sealed envelop of old letters written by the very same relatives Willie is researching at that particular moment. Or, when she's not sure what path to travel down next - *tada!* - a ghost emerges and tell her. There aren't many moments like these, but when they happened I couldn't help but roll my eyes.

Next, is the language. Time and time again, Groff's sentences felt like they were trying way too hard. I wouldn't call it pretentious exactly, but with characters named Marmaduke, Cinnamon, Primus Dwyer, and Ezekiel Flecher; and with ridiculous sentences like, "He slept, openmouthed like a boy, blissfully naked, his smooth rear exposed trustfully to the sky" she is definitely risking absurdity on more than one occasion.

But despite all of this, I couldn't help but enjoy reading this book. The story - although often unbelievable - was engrossing, and the language - while often grating - was also often beautiful, allowing the terrible spots to be quickly and easily laughed away. It's been a long time since I've felt so conflicted by a story, and that alone is reason enough to make me glad to have read it.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,258 followers
December 31, 2008
First I read this book with curiosity and, I confess, not a little scepticism. Then I read this book with pleasure and even, perhaps, morbid anticipation. Finally, as I turned the last few pages and the book spoke to me of endings and new beginnings, I read this book with appreciation and wonder.

The Monsters of Templeton begins in a distracted, almost haphazard fashion, introducing the tangential plot of the lake monster's death even as we meet the protagonist, Wilhelmina "Wille" Upton. It took me some time to warm to her and her hippie-turned-born-again-Baptist mother, Vivienne, whom Willie addresses as Vi. When I first picked this book up off a library shelf, I wasn't sure how interesting it would be, but I borrowed it anyway. I don't regret that decision.

I soon fell in love with our heroine, who is just the right amount of feisty and reflective. She is not without flaws, her mother admonishing her as much as she admonishes her mom. Add to this the fact that Vi's dating her reverend and Willie's best friend, Clarissa, is suffering in San Francisco from lupus, and you have a veritable cast of zany characters--yet somehow, Lauren Groff makes it all work!

As Willie searches for the identity of her father, we learn about her family, and she learns more about herself. She confronts her pregnancy, the affair that led up to it, and forms new relationships with old acquaintances in her small hometown. Willie grows over the course of this book, and I enjoyed watching her development.

The parallel stories that Groff tells through the flashbacks and letters of Willie's ancestors aren't my favourite part of this book, but they serve a purpose and are interesting enough. Thanks to her excellent and varied voices, Groff manages to synthesize diverse perspectives that keep these sections interesting.

And lastly, there's the "Buds", the Running Buds, five men in late middle age who run around the town every morning, the town gossips, discussing their lives and the lives of everyone in Templeton. Groff inserts their opinions on events in the story, writing with the rhythm of a runner. These chapters serve to tie together the past and the present and put everything in perspective.

Set in and concerning a small town with a long history, The Monsters of Templeton is a touching story about family, growing up, and making choices. Groff manages to create a flawed but likable heroine and an even wackier mother. Unlike many books, which begin with a bang but peter out before reaching a satisfactory ending, this book comes to a calm and conclusive resolution that left me with the satisfaction comparable to eating a filling meal.

The Monsters of Templeton is a good read, and I'm glad I plucked it from the library shelf.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,005 followers
June 28, 2008
I requested this book from the library loan service because it had a promising title and a cover reminiscent of a couple other recent books that I'd liked. The Sonoma County library system does not give one much by way of useful information such as a summery, cover blurb, genre, etc. As it turned out, this story as far as I read focused on dysfunctional families, unwanted pregnancy, and claustrophobic small towns, three tropes which I almost never enjoy. So back to the library it goes! There was a brief, teasing aside with a monster in it, but the monster was surfacing already dead in the lake, so I am not gambling on much exciting monster action developing. I also didn't particularly care for the writing style; the author is nothing like as witty or literary as she seems to think she is. But if you are into pretentious books with lots of internal narrative about unsympathetic characters' messed up emotions and ruined lives, by all means give this book a shot.

Oh, and the author claims in the intro that there will be some ripping off (my phrase, not hers) of "Leatherstocking Tales" later in the book, but I didn't get that far.
Profile Image for Jason.
288 reviews533 followers
May 1, 2008
"Read" isn't fair. And neither is my reason for giving up so quickly. But I winced when I hit a woman named Piddles (Sweeney, I think), and the appearance of Zeke Felcher sealed the deal. As my old, venerated writing instructor Fister McBunghole used to say, it is very, very hard to write funny or silly names.

I was already getting a case of fatal whimsy. So now you have a choice: trust me or Stephen King, or (one of) the Michelle(s) on this site who wrote a fine, generous, thoughtful review below. I have a feeling Michelle may be a better judge, because I dropped this fast.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
December 11, 2015
I wanted to read this book because I've been to Cooperstown; and while knowing the town is not necessary, it certainly enhanced my enjoyment of the novel with my being able to visualize the streets, etc. in my head (especially since it's such a novel of 'place' -- another element that appeals to me). While this novel isn't 'great literature' (and why should it be!), I do think it's a 'literary novel'. But most of all, it was fun and inventive and smart, and I enjoyed the whole experience of it.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,603 reviews2,577 followers
April 19, 2019
(Nearly 4.5) I enjoyed this immensely, from the first line on: “The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.” Twenty-eight-year-old Wilhelmina Sunshine “Willie” Upton is back in her hometown in upstate New York, partway through a PhD program and pregnant by her older, married archaeology professor after a summer of fieldwork in Alaska. It’s a strange echo of what happened when her own mother, Vivienne, moved back from her California hippie commune after her parents’ sudden death and found herself pregnant and unmarried in Templeton, especially galling when the Uptons were related on both sides to the town’s founder, Marmaduke Temple.

Willie gives herself a few weeks back home to dig through her family history to find her father – whom Vi has never identified – and decide whether she’s ready to be a mother herself. “I had come home to be a child again. I was sick, heartbroken, worn down.” We hear from various leading lights in the town’s history and/or Willie’s family tree through a convincing series of first-person narratives, letters and other documents. Groff gives voice to everyone from a Mohican chief to a slave girl who catches her master’s eye. Willie and Vi are backed up by a wonderful set of secondary characters, past (“we need a mass of ancestors at our back as ballast”) and present, including Willie’s best friend, Clarissa; Vi’s new boyfriend, Reverend John Melkovich (I’m sure a certain actor was in the author’s mind!); and a couple of guys Willie knew in high school who have changed almost beyond recognition. There’s even a first person plural chorus in the form of six middle-aged runners. And, of course, there’s the monster, whose existence is never disputed.

Groff wrote this in homage to Cooperstown, New York, where she grew up. (If you’ve heard of it, it’s probably for the baseball museum; it’s not far from where my mother is from in upstate New York.) Templeton is “a slantwise version” of Cooperstown, Groff admits in an opening Author’s Note, and she has its most famous citizen, James Fenimore Cooper, to thank for the name of Templeton as well as several of her historical characters. What a charming way to celebrate where you come from with all its magic and mundanity. I also love Groff’s writing at the sentence level: Vi “sped with reckless endangerment of the tourists’ drosophila lives” and “I awoke to a day gray-felted with raindrops.”

I read the first 80 pages of this to keep my mind off of a sick-making ferry ride, and for quite a lot of its length I considered a 5-star rating. In the end I decided there was a bit too much going on and Groff didn’t quite bring it all together, but this is a terrific debut novel and has cemented my love for Groff’s work. Her story collection Florida was my fiction book of the year last year, and I now have just one more of her books to read, Delicate Edible Birds (another story collection).
March 25, 2017
Have you ever picked up a book because it had a pretty cover, knowing almost nothing about it before you start reading? And then, when you begin to get lost in the pages, you realize that said book is the most perfect book to read at this most perfect time in your life because it just, I don't know, speaks to you and every situation that you are currently facing? And then, it seems that every person in your life at that particular moment in time seems also to be speaking to you from the pages of this glorious book you just so happened to pick up because of the cover?

That's what I call a book soulmate. It's fate. The Monsters of Templeton and I were always meant to be BFFs.

Don't be confused, I did not read this book at a time in my life when I thought I was pregnant by my married archaeology professor and then in my confusion, put my research skills to use to find my absent father who doesn't know I exist. I didn't find this book speaking to me because I found a kindred spirit in Willie Upton, our down-on-her-luck protagonist. Not in that way, anyway.

Willie Upton is such a great narrator, and I know that Lauren Groff felt a kindred spirit with her as well, because there are very few narrators who are so real that I feel like I could look up and find her sitting next to me. Almost as soon as I began reading, I could tell this was a deeply personal novel that Lauren Groff has written, and I know by her introduction that the fictional town of Templeton is based on her own hometown of Cooperstown, New York. Though it is a work of fiction, I feel like these characters in the town are so well-rendered because they are actually shadows, or imprints of real people who live, and have lived in Cooperstown when Ms. Groff lived there. The town of Templeton, with all its rich history and description seems a counterpart to Cooperstown as well, and though I have never visited, I feel that I could go there tomorrow and know everything about it.

Groff's writing is also superb, and I found her almost lyrical voice reaching through the pages with every word I read. The present-day action starring Miss Willie Upton is interspersed with history, journal entries, and firsthand accounts of those who lived in the town during its founding, as Willie's only clue to her father's identity is wrapped up in the story of Templeton's founding fathers. Cooperstown, as many know, is the hometown of James Fenimore Cooper who is the author of The Last of the Mohicans (which is my favorite movie of all time, by the way). So an added bonus to The Monsters of Templeton were some of Cooper's characters (such as Natty Bumpo, Chingachgook, Uncas, Hawkeye, etc) from his various novels being described as real people who lived in Templeton during its founding (Templeton being derived from Cooper's The Leatherstocking Tales). That gives an element of a "novel within a novel" theme to the book, one I found exciting and interesting.

These characters Lauren Groff has created are vivid, interesting, diverse, and rich. From Zeke, the lovable tow-truck driver who made me fall more in love with him with every page I read, to Peter Lieter, the effeminate (but secretly sexy) friend of Willie's who helps her on her daddy search, these characters made me yearn for them to be real people, so I could call them all my own friends. Every character is perfectly rendered, and I was sorry to have to leave them behind with the last turn of the page.

Oh yeah, another bonus is MAGICAL REALISM, which came in short supply here, but came nonetheless. There is a ghost who haunts Willie's room and keeps her company. At first, you think the ghost is something out of her own imagination, meant to keep loneliness at bay when Willie was a sad and detached child. Then you quickly realize, that the ghost is always there, watching over the house and protecting its tenant constantly, from heartbreak, from danger, from herself. I learned to love the ghost just as much as if it were a real person. Also, there is Glimmey, the gigantic lake monster who is discovered floating belly-up one morning and who turns the entire town upside down. I soon got to hear a little bit of Glimmey's story, which was woven into the narrative effortlessly. Just as the ghost protected Willie, Glimmey was always there protecting Templeton and its citizens from the outside. Even I, with my absurd and irrational fear of monsters lurking in the deep, came to find Glimmey as a beautiful and wondrous creation, not a monster at all, but a living being with a heart of gold who feels as much a part of the town as every other citizen. Willie seems to find a kindred spirit in Glimmey. She has felt her whole life like she is too different, an outsider, someone who just doesn't quite fit in her little town. She comes to the end of her journey realizing that despite her alienation and differences, she is just as much a part of Templeton as Glimmey. I think this is where I felt my kindred spirit bind with Willie's as well.

This is above all a novel about being human, making mistakes, and trying to find that one place and one person you belong to. It is a novel about coming home, and finally finding the magic that was there all along, and will always be there every time you need it. I don't think I am able to describe in words what this novel meant to me. And like I said before, I think I read it exactly at a moment in my life where it was able to speak to me the most. I naturally realize that not every person will have this reaction, but somewhere out there, I just want to thank Lauren Groff for writing this spellbinding novel, and for her graphic artist who designed such a beautiful cover that I just had to have it. This will be a novel that I will pick up and read again and again every time I need to be reminded just what the meaning of home is.
Profile Image for rachel.
751 reviews146 followers
October 3, 2022
This book has everything I like in a book, including half wacky/half practical characters, the unearthing of an expansive, scandalous family history (told in the voices of those family members and Groff made an effort for them to actually sound different too!), enough mystery/intrigue to make it unputdownable, and a sea monster with a Puff the Magic Dragon-like affinity for people. Puff the Magic Dragon makes me cry, thus the ending of this almost did too.

Anyway, it's really good. Having read both Lauren Groff and Karen Russell for the first time this year, I feel like I've found a new genre to love. A little bit of magical realism to shade the story with fantasy, but not enough to make the story feel distant. A little to a lot off-kilter, but not so much that it can never cross back over into seriousness too. Uniquely voiced like Middlesex, but with more monsters. Yeah, I like this trend of two (probably more, but I have to find them). I like it more than sober, stuffy books written by literary old men. More of this please.
Profile Image for Nikoleta.
680 reviews274 followers
May 19, 2015
Ένα βιβλίο που μου άρεσε πολύ. Ένα ενήλικο παραμύθι που η ιστορία του διανύει πολλές γενιές. Όταν η Βιλελμίνα γυρνάει στο πατρικό της κ μαθαίνει ότι ο πατέρας της, τον οποίο δεν γνωρίζει, κατάγεται από το ίδιο γενεαλογικό δέντρο με την μητέρα της (το μοναδικό στοιχείο που έχει για την ταυτότητα του)αρχίζει μια τρελή έρευνα για το παρελθον των προγονών της. Και εκεί είναι το ενδιαφέρον του βιβλίου. Κάθε κεφάλαιο αφόρα την ιστορία ενός διαφορετικού προγόνου κάθε φορά, αλλά οι ιστορίες τους δεν είναι τόσο απλές. Όλοι τους γεννήματα του Τέμπλετον, ενός τόπου όπου οι μύθοι και οι θρύλοι γίνονται πραγματικότητα. Στις ιστορίες τους, μαζί με τα απλά και τα καθημερινά, τα προξενιά και τις μοιχείες, συνυπάρχουν φαντάσματα, και γυναίκες που ανάβουν φωτιές με μια σκέψη και φυσικά ο Γκλίμι, το άγρυπνο τέρας της λίμνης Γκλίμεργκλας που παρακολουθούσε όλες τις γενιές Τεμπλ για δυο ολόκληρους αιώνες. Εκπληκτικό βιβλίο, ακατάλληλο για αυτούς που δεν συμπαθούν τις μαγικορεαλιστικές ιστορίες.
Profile Image for Erica.
1,331 reviews435 followers
April 26, 2022
This book totally makes me squeal (in my mind, so as not to disturb those around me), "Awww!"

Here are the things that just tickled me pink:
-The mayor sports ornamental canes and too-short shorts! Bwahahaha! Such perfect small-town imagery, it cracked me up so much.
--Finding out your dad(s) isn't your dad! YES! YES! I know all about this! And the worry, the "Crap! I may have dated my brother because I didn't know we were related!" when you're in a small town and both parents live there! OMG! YES!
---Yay for Library Love even if the librarians start out as stereotypes. But that the author moved beyond the stereotypes to explore the other stereotype (that librarians are quirky and hard to figure out until you get to know them) = SO MUCH LOVE!
----Awww! Monsters with little dead people dolls! Adorable!

I really enjoyed listening to this. I liked the reader quite well, I liked the story, I liked the family history being untangled (I'm a sucker for those stories), I liked the setting and how it was based on James Fenimore Cooper's town and works, I liked the dead lake monster. I liked it all...except Willie.
It's not that I didn't like Willie, per se, but that I was bored by her. In my mind, she was more of a hub, the reason we got to hear all these other stories. She seemed younger than her 27 (28?) years; she was ridiculously self-involved which didn't seem to make sense to my mind. She's been out in the Alaskan tundra, digging up bodies. Well, a body. Maybe. I figured she'd be tougher, would have a more sophisticated worldview or something. I dunno. I didn't think she'd act like a first-time-around college student who just realized she'd been knocked up by a professor. Maybe everyone reacts to being knocked up by a professor in the same fashion, no matter her age or experiences? I dunno. All I know is that when Willie was talking, I was yawning.
And that led me to have half-tepid feelings at the end. The discovery of her father seemed anticlimactic to me. Actually, I didn't even care. I loved her family history and everything she dug up, but the actual revealing of the dad? I was uninterested.
At the same time, the other part of the ending, the monster, made me happy. It was autorenewal for the town, much like Willie was autorenewal for the townsfolk in a way. Ok, actually no. She wasn't that at all. But the monster = a rebirthiness and now the town can enter another era, a new Glimmy era? I'm sure the monster signifies something deeper, grander than what I'm picking up, but I don't care because I just loved the whole concept.
And the ghost. The ghost in the house. I liked how that was treated as just another aspect of life in this strange little place that never changes.
But not Willie. I did not like Willie.
I am now determined to go read the rest of Cooper's works, having previously only read The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans So I will be a better educated individual thanks to this story!

I was left with one lingering question, though: Aristables Mudge (I'm taking a wild guess at that spelling), the apothecary and then pharmacist. What is his story??
Profile Image for Celeste Ng.
Author 16 books87k followers
January 4, 2009
The in-voice historical segments are like little gems studding this book: clear and pure and brilliant. The Greek chorus of the Running Buds, too, are sheer genius and will win your heart.
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