The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff.
Up surfaced the monster, and after the monster there came the crowd. - from The Monsters of Templeton, page 34 -
Willie Upton arrives back in her hometown of Templeton after a lurid affair with her archeology professor. She leaves behind her potential PhD in the Alaskan wilderness to return to her roots in upstate New York. Hoping to find comfort in a place that has always felt unchanged, Willie instead finds her former hippie mother, Vi, immersed in born-again Christianity and a town in an uproar over the dead body of a monster which has surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.
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. I always thought, hey, if the ice caps melt and all the cities of the world are swallowed up, Templeton will be fine. We'd be able to make do. Plant vegetables. Bunker up, sit it out, whatever. But it doesn't seem right anymore. Does it? - from The Monsters of Templeton, page 131 -
Within days, Vi reveals that Willie's father is not an unknown hippie from the psychedelic days of San Francisco, but instead someone Willie knows well and who shares her family history. On a quest to discover her father's identity, Willie digs deeply into the backgrounds of the people from the town's bygone days, and reconnects with friends from her past.
Lauren Groff's complex and riveting first novel explores identity, the irresistible pull of our pasts, and the history of a small town in upstate New York. Groff based her story on her real hometown of Cooperstown, New York and borrowed liberally from James Fenimore Cooper's massive cast of quirky characters in constructing a novel rich in folklore and historical references.
Willie is a young woman struggling to find her identity in order to understand her future. As she researches her family history, the characters from her past take turns narrating their often convoluted stories and revealing their dark, well-kept secrets. Groff uses actual photographs and constructs ever-evolving family trees as Willie gets closer to the truth about her family.
The Monsters of Templeton is really a bit of a mystery novel, an unraveling of the past to solve the question of who fathered Willie. Groff also introduces a bit of magical realism with the monster of Lake Glimmerglass and several ghosts who help guide Willie to clues about her ancestry. But what works the best in the story is the crowd of characters who all vie for their chance to reveal their secrets.
Lauren Groff's debut novel was nominated for the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers in 2008.
This book is recommended for readers who enjoy character-driven novels, historical fiction and a bit of a mystery.
★ ★ ★ ★ : Four stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".