Book Review: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

August 11, 2008

Both quiet and compelling, Groff’s imperfect but lulling multi-generational tale of a neurotic family in small-town upstate New York is charming if not a masterpiece. And the sea monster is sweet, if not profound (expect some bang-you-over-the-head symbolism).

Despite frequently-updated family tree diagrams throughout the book, keeping the generations of the Temple and Averell and Upton flocks of protagonist Willie’s family sorted out is not a minor feat. It’s easy to get lost in the branches. But for readers who are suckers for multi-generational family affairs (I am looking at myself here), the book is formulaically digestible: emotional secrets, historical ephemera woven in with mythology, madness, sadness and love.

Groff is clearly enamored with her own personal setting and background: she explains in the preface that patriarchal writer Joseph Temple is based on John Fenimore Cooper and goes so far as to bring Cooper’s characters back to life (Natty Bumppo, Chingachgook) and reworking his hometown of Cooperstown into the novel’s eponymous Templeton. This trick is more clever than integral to the novel’s core meaning.

We are introduced into Templeton’s sphere by way of Willie, a late-twenty-something grad student who is simultaneously too precocious to be believed and woefully naive. Her own personal crisis leads her to investigate the realities of her own family, realities that suddenly become more complex. Told in many voices and through many generations, “Templeton” is not without its flaws–slightly unbelievable 19th-century stylizings, a bit too clean and peachy at times, and clearly a first novel–but it is enjoyable and worthwhile. A noble first effort from Groff. Hope to see more.


LibraryThing Tags:

fiction, novel, fantasy, monsters, read, readin2008, new york, family, epic

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