Libby's Reviews > The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
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did not like it
bookshelves: 2008-misses

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.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
March 8, 2008 – Shelved
April 12, 2008 – Shelved as: 2008-misses

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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Beth Anne while i agree with some of your review, i do want to mention..the "running buds" were actually based on real people the author knew growing up in Cooperstown.

Libby Beth Anne wrote: "while i agree with some of your review, i do want to mention..the "running buds" were actually based on real people the author knew growing up in Cooperstown."

Thanks, Beth Anne! I meant simply that the voice of the Running Buds struck me as affected, not that the idea of a group of running friends was unlikely or unrealistic. I think I was not so into the nomenclature, either--a personal preference thing, of course. But whenever I would read "The Running Buds" I would think of "The Darling Buds of May."

Katherine I totally agree with this review... I'm reading the book right now. I want to finish it, but I just don't like the main character's voice. Willie just... annoys me.

Bridget I shared some of your feelings while I was reading, but in the end I really liked "The Monsters of Templeton." I don't think that the book takes itself too seriously. Once I accepted that it was just silly fun, I could enjoy it.

Betty I completely agree with you. As I was writing my review I couldn't put my finger on exactly what I didn't like about it, and I think you've summed it up quite nicely. While I was looking for something fun and mysterious in this book, what I found was boring and pretentious! Though I never got to the end, and maybe it changes?

message 6: by Nonnie (new) - added it

Nonnie Totally agree ... Like grasping to be a great book....

message 7: by Bob (new) - added it

Bob Nolin She did write what I consider a great book, Arcadia. But yeah, this one was not a winner.

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