January 9, 2009

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

I finished Lauren Groff's debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, early this morning. I didn't finish it last night because I was going cross-eyed from exhaustion and promised myself that I would exorcise it before another day passed. It was really that good.

Originally, the premise sounded a little well-worn -- young, ambitious female scholar has affair with professor, it ends badly, she goes home to small town to recover. However, the fact that she tries to run her professor's wife down with a bush plane piqued my interest enough for me to read on, and I'm very glad I did. Although The Monsters of Templeton is a very fast read, it's not a popcorn book - Groff's prose-style alone precludes that. In fact, it's her prose that makes the novel stand-out. Well, her prose and the novel's structure. 

While the unifying thread is that of Willie Upton, the ambitious female scholar with the bush plane, the novel wouldn't be half as interesting if it were only about her (the only real weakness I found in the book were some minor elements of her characterization that didn't quite ring true. But then, that's a matter of personal taste...).

Groff expands the narrative to include the entire town of Templeton including its settlement, the "monster" in Lake Glimmerglass and Willie's venerable family tree. As Willie solves the mystery of her parentage, the history of her family and town unfolds through letters, journals and the fictional work of a fictional genius. From a structural point of view, I enjoyed all of that because I'm a structure geek, but neat structure doesn't necessarily guarantee enjoyable reading. However, Groff peppers in so many dark, humorous and, frankly odd, elements -- a spinster with pyrokinesis, a charming murderess with a cross-dressing sister, a benign, violet colored ghost with a penchant for cleanliness, and the aforementioned "monster" in the lake (which I though to be the loveliest character in book) -- that it's hard not to be charmed by the narrative itself. 

And so, because of all of these things and others that I would rather not spoil, The Monsters of Templeton was a lovely read and I very much recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of a look at the dark side, without tipping over the edge.

4 comments:

mexalapotis said...

I'm off tomorrow, I may sally forth and see if half price has it. Sounds great!

Madeleine said...

It's pretty awesome and I think you might really like it - it's one of the best recent releases I've read in a while. Let me know what you think if you find it....

JimDesu said...

A ghost with a penchant for cleanliness? Are you lending your fiction brain out overnight while I'm not looking? That sounds just like the stuff you write....

Madeleine said...

::smile:: No, my brain is staying put.
I suspect her style is a little hmm... not subtler than mine, but maybe less overt. She slides the weird stuff in there without saying much about it, while I tend to punch the humor a little more. Still, it was encouraging to see reality with a dash of weird stuff not only published, but well received by critics and readers.