Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Review: The Monsters of Templeton

Summary: “The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”
So begins The Monsters of Templeton, a novel spanning two centuries: part a contemporary story of a girl’s search for her father, part historical novel, and part ghost story, this spellbinding novel is at its core a tale of how one town holds the secrets of a family.

In the wake of a wildly disastrous affair with her married archaeology professor, Willie Upton arrives on the doorstep of her ancestral home in Templeton, New York, where her hippie-turned-born-again-Baptist mom, Vi, still lives. Willie expects to be able to hide in the place that has been home to her family for generations, but the monster’s death changes the fabric of the quiet, picture-perfect town her ancestors founded. Even further, Willie learns that the story her mother had always told her about her father has all been a lie: he 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. Through letters, editorials, and journal entries, the dead rise up to tell their sides of the story as dark mysteries come to light, past and present blur, old stories are finally put to rest, and the shocking truth about more than one monster is revealed. - Hyperion

As many of you already know, I "won" THE MONSTERS OF TEMPLETON by Lauren Groff a few weeks ago from Girls Just Reading. I have been dying to read this book for a few months; and almost as soon as I received it in the mail (I had to finish the book I was already reading), I settled down on the couch and cracked it open. I read the first quarter of the book in one sitting and I couldn't put it down. I don't know what happened after that, but the middle part of the book was very slow for me. I did read the last 125 pages in one sitting and I was definitely caught up in the story, but I have to admit that I didn't quite love the book like I was hoping.

Having read so many wonderful reviews (especially Entertainment Magazine's and Stephen King's), I was under the impression that this might be the best book that I've read in quite awhile. I did enjoy it, and I'd even say that I really, really liked it. It's just that I think my expectations for the book were so high that I'm having a little bit of a let down. But even saying that, I thought that this book was very interesting and unique. I'm not even sure how to classify this book -- mystery, suspense, thriller, historical fiction, supernatural, etc. I have to admit that I've never read a book quite like this one!

I do think that Ms. Groff's story-telling abilities were incredible and her writing style is definitely something special. It's very hard for me to believe that this is her first novel. I have a huge appreciation of the amount of research she conducted for this book, and I'm in awe of how she organized the entire novel with all of Willie's ancestors. I thought the genealogy charts and actual pictures were such a great touch to this novel. In addition, I thought Ms. Groff did an amazing job of writing in different voices and styles depending on who was telling the story in each chapter.

I'm not sure that I entirely "figured out" all of the symbols in the book -- I think that's what might be bothering me. I read in an interview with Ms. Groff (and I'm paraphrasing) that each reader can interpret the book in their own way. I think I understand a lot of the symbols, but I guess I just want to know for sure! I always say that a good book should keep you thinking about it even after you've finished it -- I guess if I use that criteria, THE MONSTERS OF TEMPLETON was definitely a good book for me.

I strongly recommend reading this book with your book club or just talking about it with some friends. There are so many dimesions to this book that make it a great book to share -- here are some discussion questions (either in html or pdf format) to get the conversation started. I have a feeling that this book will be a huge hit with book clubs, especially when it comes out in paperback.


heather (errantdreams) said...

Sounds like an interesting book! It seems like more and more books are setting aside genre conventions and straddling two, three, or even four genres at once. I love it. I always felt I'd rather see a story fit into whatever genres best suited it than see it artificially constrained to one genre just because it's easier to market that way.

Julie said...

otI like your feedback on it. I did enjoy the book but wasn't blown away by it. I would read Lauren again though because she does weave a great story.

Anonymous said...

Excellent comments on the book. It's indeed a genre crossing behemoth and now I'm giving some extra thought to what symbols I allowed to slide across my field of vision.