four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
By: 
Lauren Groff
user_rating: 
0

A-The Monsters of TempletonAfter a grievous affair with a married professor, grad student Wilhemina "Willie" Upton returns home to Templeton, New York, on the same day that the carcass of a prehistoric beast floats to the surface of Lake Glimmerglass. Upon Willie’s arrival at haunted Averell Cottage, Willie’s mother, Vi, unexpectedly reveals that Willie’s biological father, long considered a stranger, is, in fact, a prominent resident of Templeton. Vi refuses to divulge his name but offers Willie a clue: he, like the Uptons, descended from Templeton’s founder, Marmaduke Temple. Using her research skills, Willie sorts through letters, journals, and newspaper articles to piece together her family tree while unearthing Templeton’s unsavory history.
Hyperion. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1401322255

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The whole find-your-real-dad scavenger hunt is a little contrived. … But Groff has concocted such a rich trove of source documents—portraits, old letters, journal entries, and reminiscences by characters lifted from Fenimore Cooper’s writings—that readers will be too busy gleefully burrowing into the fictitious past she has created to mind." Yvonne Zipp

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Journeying through the pastiche of past and present feels much like going through an extremely well-written and well-documented family scrapbook (and uncovering a few skeletons along the way). … The result is riveting, fun and unpredictable." Robin Vidimos

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"The Monsters of Templeton is part mystery and part history. … The ingenious use of photo illustrations of Willie’s relatives is irresistibly effective, and, as Willie works to unearth her father’s identity, Groff turns her story into a meditation on the nature of change and how evolution—of a place, a family, a person—even if it’s difficult and unsettling, can bring joyous rewards." Connie Ogle

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Reading this exquisite book is like swimming through warm water filled with wondrous things—bizarre grottoes, panoramas from history—floating in a kind of timelessness. … Groff is a master at using art as a pair of gloves with which to handle dark things, but one has the sense she doesn’t yet realize either the depth of her talent or the depth of insulation it provides from the human pain she handles." Laurel Maury

Toronto Globe and Mail 4 of 5 Stars
"It is indeed a scrapbook of a creature, with its compelling weave of historical and contemporary story linked with photos, historical journal excerpts, letters and dramatic monologues of long-dead characters who appear in the book as though summoned in a séance. … The characters from the past burst off the page with alacrity and distinctiveness, and it’s nothing short of genius that she can present such diversity in voice and character." Christy Ann Conlin

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Ms. Groff] tries out more voices and documents than she can comfortably create. But it speaks well for her narrative talents that Willie Upton, disarming and smart, holds even more interest than the elaborate events that surround her." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Based on the works of James Fenimore Cooper—particularly The Pioneers, in which the celebrated novelist reimagines his hometown, Cooperstown, New York, as Templeton—Lauren Groff’s debut novel startled critics with its originality and power. Despite its magical realist elements, The Monsters of Templeton is primarily an exploration of the history of Templeton and its monsters of the decidedly human variety. Willie is an engaging and likable character, and the plot is driven forward by the imaginative use of invented source documents and vintage photos culled by Groff from antique stores, flea markets, and even eBay. The only complaint? A few too many voices and sources. Compared to Carol Shields, "only more whimsical and inventive" (San Francisco Chronicle), Groff is a promising new writer who has penned an innovative, entertaining first novel.