Friday, December 6, 2013

Reading Challenge Redux: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

It's going to be a mad rush to the end for this year's Reading Challenge Redux. Here's another peek at a title I've crossed my list: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. (M)'ve actually owned a copy of The Monsters of Templeton for a few years now, having come across an inexpensive copy at a second hand store. As often happens for me with books that I buy, it promptly made its way to a shelf in my house, where I thought it should sit until I got through the library books I had checked out. Problem being, there are always more library books that I've got checked out, and purchased books (without the looming due date deadline) continually get pushed aside.

(c) : Lucy Schaeffer
Groff is a young American novelist: The Monsters of Templeton was her first novel and her first book. She is an author I've read about, and read a little bit by: although I realized after placing her on my reading challenge list of authors whom I'd read a previous book by, that it actually wasn't 100% true. I'd previously read a short story by Groff, not a whole book: clearly the story Delicate Edible Birds from the collection of the same name, left a big impact on me. Delicate Edible Birds is a story of a group of journalists feeling the fall of Paris in World War II. My recollection of that story was that it dripped with atmosphere and matched the writing prowess of great novels of World War II -- think Suite Fran├žaise or Atonement -- but did so with the compactness and intensity of a great short story.

The Monsters of Templeton is stylistically a very different story than Delicate Edible Birds. Both are equally well crafted but Delicate Edible Birds is very serious historical fiction, while The Monsters of Templeton blends genres including historical fiction, family saga and fantasy and mixes both seriousness and whimsy. Here's a synopsis:"One dark summer dawn in Templeton, New York, at the moment an enormous monster surfaces in Lake Glimmerglass, twenty-eight-year-old Willie Upton returns pregnant and miserable to her hometown of Templeton, N.Y. Willie is a descendant of the creator of the town, Marmaduke Temple, and she expects to be able to hide in the place that has been home to her family for centuries. But the monster changes the fabric of the village, and Willie's mother, Vivienne, has a surprise that will send Willie careening through her family's history to dig up clues about her heritage. Spanning two centuries and based on Cooperstown, New York., the story is told through two centuries of voices, from Templeton ghosts to residents, masters to servants, natives to interlopers, and historical figures to literary characters."

The Monsters of Templeton is a genealogical mystery of sorts, but it is also wildly imaginative piece of writing. Groff seems equally comfortable writing in contemporary settings as historical ones -- the book jumps back and forth between Willie's modern day life in Templeton and the lives of the historical family members she researches. Groff's characters -- both modern and historic -- are real and full of life, her settings are vivid to the point of feeling familiar. Between the two very different pieces I have now read by her, Groff has shown herself to be a talented and diverse writer who seems capable of anything she puts her mind to writing about. Instead of scratching a book off my to-be-read list, I feel like I've now added two more: the balance of the stories in Delicate Edible Birds and Arcadia, her second novel, released in 2012 and set in the hippie heydays of the 1960s.

If you're a fan of Groff you may want to explore these other authors (or if these other authors are already favourites of yours, you should consider give Groff a try).,%20karen%22Karen Russell (M): I've talked about Karen Russell a lot on this blog I think -- she was even a part of this very reading challenge this year. Like Groff, Russell is a young, American novelist who shows great range in her writing. Russell is perhaps slightly more encamped in the whimsical side of things than Groff, and there are similarities in their approach to pulling the fantastical into otherwise very of-this-world settings. Like Groff, Russell seems comfortable in both the novel and short story format.,%20samantha%22Samantha Hunt (M): I am admittedly less familiar with American author Hunt's writing than I am with either Karen Russell or Lauren Groff's but from my reading of Hunt's 2007 novel The Invention of Everything Else I think there is room for comparison. Hunt's novel is historical fiction of the life of Nikola Tesla, but like Groff's stories, Hunt seems willing to step outside normal genre conventions. Booklist called this book "Oddly charming and pleasantly peculiar, Hunt's novel offers a unique perspective on hope and imagining life's possibilities".,%20james%20fenimore%22James Fenimore Cooper (M): This one is perhaps more of a novelty comparison than a stylistic one: Lauren Groff is from Cooperstown New York, as was American novelist James Fenimore Cooper. Groff pays tribute to Cooper's The Pioneers in The Monsters of Templeton: like him she sets her book in a fictionalized version of Cooperstown called Templeton Cooper's novel. Although the styles of the books differ greatly, fans of one may want to investigate the other to gain a more complete picture.


  1. Waiting for your review of A Fine Balance!

  2. I am still very much looking forward to reading that one. It's been a busy reading year and hard to get to all my intended books. I'm thinking I may be extending this project into 2014!