BOOK REVIEW: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

 
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What is there to say about Lauren Groff that hasn’t already been said? She’s a phenom, a master, one of Barack Obama’s favourite authors. From my compulsive consumption of book-related podcasts I’ve also learned that she’s undeniably likeable. Her prose will pierce through the fog of your everyday life and make you feel more than mildly inadequate about your own writing abilities, but her stories will wrap you up and captivate you in a way that few things in life can.

If you couldn’t already tell, I’m a pretty big fan.

For me, 2019 is the year of Lauren Groff. I’ in the midst of an effort to read all of her books, and, having completed The Monsters of Templeton, am now more than halfway through. Her most recent book, a short story collection called Florida, and her bestselling novel Fates & Furies have been two of my favourite books of the year. Both books revolve around characters so intricately woven they felt completely real. Groff’s specialty is in writing about inherently flawed but intensely relatable people, and The Monsters of Templeton is full of them.

The Monsters of Templeton is a novel about Groff’s hometown of Cooperstown, New York, a place with a bizarre and intriguing history. In a brief introductory chapter, Groff says, “My Templeton is to Cooperstown as a shadow is to the tree that spawned it; an outline that takes texture from the ground it falls on.” While it features aspects of fantasy, history and drama, The Monsters of Templeton is ultimately a character study of a town and its unique inhabitants, and in many ways reads like a love story to the place Groff grew up.

Wilhemina “Willie” Upton arrives in her hometown heartbroken after the decline of an already-precarious romantic relationship. Uncertain about her future and the status of her yet-to-be-completed Ph.D. she moves back in with her eccentric mother and becomes reabsorbed in the strange flow of life in Templeton, New York. Coinciding with her reappearance is the discovery of a dead monster that’s evidently been living in the town’s lake for centuries. In an attempt to distract herself from the downfalls of her current existence, Willie decides to spend the summer researching her ancestors – the very men and women who famously founded Templeton – and hopes to discover her father’s identity along the way. What unfolds is a story of magic, mystery, and absolute mayhem told from the perspectives of the interesting and utterly absurd relatives Willie is learning about. 

“A man living in a place that doesn’t change doesn’t expect it ever will.”
— Lauren Groff, The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton is a novel about family and the feeling of coming home. Over the course of the summer, Willie struggles between being drawn back to her university life – where she feels free of the scrutiny she faces in Templeton – and her genuine love for her hometown. Templeton is geographically beautiful, but the people of the town – including a quirky librarian, a group of middle-aged joggers, and Willie’s own peculiar mother – at times make it an uncomfortable place to live, particularly for an ambitious young woman.

 In the end The Monsters of Templeton is, like everything Groff does, an incredibly complex and spellbinding story, and one would probably have failed if not for its authors’ talent and abilities. It’s a perfect summer read for anyone looking to branch out from their normal genres. It will make you think a little harder about how the place you come from has shaped you into who you are.