Monday, January 29, 2018
Published February 2008 by Hatchette Books
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my local library book sale
"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. In the wake of a disastrous love affair with her older, married archaeology professor at Stanford, brilliant Wilhelmina Cooper arrives back at the doorstep of her hippie mother-turned-born-again-Christian's house in Templeton, NY, a storybook town her ancestors founded that sits on the shores of Lake Glimmerglass. Upon her arrival, a prehistoric monster surfaces in the lake bringing a feeding frenzy to the quiet town, and Willie learns she has a mystery father her mother kept secret Willie's entire life.
The beautiful, broody Willie is told that the key to her biological father's identity lies somewhere in her family's history, so she buries herself in the research of her twisted family tree and finds more than she bargained for as a chorus of voices from the town's past—some sinister, all fascinating—rise up around her to tell their side of the story. In the end, dark secrets come to light, past and present day are blurred, and old mysteries are finally put to rest.
Because I loved Groff's Fates and Furies, when I found this audiobook at my library's book sale, I was excited to explore her backlist. Once I started listening, however, I was less enthused.
Groff, grew up in Cooperstown, New York. You know who else did? James Fenimore Cooper, whose father founded Cooperstown. In his novels, Fenimore Cooper renamed his hometown Templeton and his father Marmaduke Temple. Groff grafts her novel and characters onto Fenimore Cooper's novels and characters and I had to admire her ambition.
Unfortunately, the execution didn't exactly work for me. The voices from the past weren't always voices that Willie was hearing. So, while they were interesting asides for readers and gave us a glimpse into the real monsters for Templeton, they didn't contribute anything to Willie's search and they really took me out of what was, I thought, the main story of the book. They weren't the only things; there were a number of lesser stories that didn't amount to much and could easily have been left out of the book and not missed.
But that wasn't my biggest problem with the story. Willie's been told all of her life that her mother doesn't know who her father is, that he could be one of three men she had sex with while she was a 17-year-old living in a commune. So my first problem with the story was the idea that this was something a mother would tell her child about who her father was. Now jump to current Willie who is finding out from her mother that the story she's been told all of her life is not the truth. What? You didn't want to tell your child the truth and the best alternative you could find was the one where you'd slept with three different men? Also, Vi still doesn't want to name Willie's father; she will only tell her that it's someone from Templeton who also claims to have descended from Marmaduke Temple. Which is what leads Willie off into researching her family history. Vi is perfectly fine with Willie doing this; in fact, she even seems to encourage her instead of just telling Willie the truth. Of course, if she'd done that, there would be no book. But I just couldn't buy that a mother would withhold information that she's perfectly willing to have her daughter find out eventually.
This was Groff's first novel and I could certainly see where she was developing the skills that would, eventually, lead to Fates and Furies. I'm not sure, though, that if I had read this book when it first came out, I would have picked up another of her books. But then, if you read other reviews, but for a few reviewers, I'm definitely not in the majority in my opinion of the book.
Two things I learned about having "read" this book on audio: 1) I'm not alone in thinking that while the reader did a passable job, she didn't really help to bring the book alive, and 2) there were pictures in the book that I had no idea about and would really have enjoyed. If I don't scare you off of this book, then I'd definitely recommend you pick it up in print.