Friday, April 18, 2008

The Monsters of Templeton

After finishing Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton, I am left feeling muddled. Perhaps that is because the book itself is a bit of a jumble. Although Groff relies heavily on James Fenimore Cooper, the novel is more an amalgamation on the lines of Moby Dick.

The story centers on Willie Upton’s search for her biological father, but the book also includes photographs, paintings, and entries from her ancestors and other townspeople. Groff openly hijacks from Cooper’s The Pioneers—his setting (Templeton) and his characters (including Chingachgook and Marmaduke Temple)—leaving me to wonder if she could create a fictional world of her own.

For some reason, Groff also adds several fantastic elements to the novel, including lake monsters and ghosts. These elements are jarring and unnecessary, acting as overblown metaphors and continually pulling me from the moment (bursting my suspension of disbelief) and reminding me that I am, indeed, reading a piece of fiction.

Despite these flaws, the story does have a certain level of interest and intrigue. The premise is forced—a mother oddly and unrealistically making her adult daughter, Willie, play a game to discover the identity of her own father—but the history Willie digs up is interesting, if often predictable.

Monsters is certainly not a breakthrough first novel, although it did receive quite a bit of publicity. Instead, it is mildly entertaining, mildly thought provoking, and mildly irritating.

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