Lauren Groff (2008) the Monsters of Templeton.

I was surprised a panegyric to the Monsters of Templetown by Stephen King was on the back cover and not the front. I’d describe that as bad marketing, but perhaps this was not to confuse the reader, because despite the title there are no real monsters.  Lorrie Moore describes the Monsters of Templeton on the front cover as, ‘A bold hybrid of a book’.  What she means by that is the stories are factional, and it’s a love story of place as much as characters. For Templeton read Cooperstown. Lauren Groff in the Author’s note explains,

‘I have grown up with these characters almost as if they were real people and they formed the myth of my own town in my head. They belonged very firmly in Templetown.

In the end, fiction is the craft of telling truth through lies…The story saw history as malleable and tried about a different kind of truth about my little village on the lake, one filled with all the mystery and magic that I was surrounded by in my childhood.’

I weigh story-telling by truth-telling. If I can’t tell where truth begins and fiction ends, that’s a good starting point. The Clydebank I write about rings true, because it is true. Templeton rings true because it is true. Harper Lee takes the reader back to the deep South and the old town of Maycomb during the hungry thirties in To Kill a Mocking Bird. A child’s eye view of change in a town where nothing really changes.

The narrator is Willie ‘Sunshine’ Upton (illeg.) born 1973.

Homecoming

The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.

That’s a killer first line to start any novel. All novels need questions that need answers so the reader turns the pages. Here we have two in the first sentence. Why is she disgraced and where did the monster come from?

Her disgrace is that aged 24, she’s pregnant; an English Harvard professor on an archaeological dig in the Alaskan tundra is the father, but he’s married. And Willie inadvertently tried to run his wife over with the supply plane. But there is symmetry in her disgrace.

Her mother Vivienne Upton (‘Vi’) 1955—arrived back in Templetown apparently pregnant, also aged 24. Vi claimed not to know who the father was, having lived in a commune with drugs and ‘free love’ on the menu.  Vi was the town’s official hippy. But she was also a property owner. Her (and Willie’s) ancestors had founded Templetown. It was in their blood. Their backwater town cured them of all ills even Vi’s acne.

Willie paints the backstory of the town and friendship with Clarissa, her Harvard best friend, who was an orphan like Vi (her grandparents being killed together in a car crash). Clarissa, in New York, suffers from lupus and her ongoing health concerns provide some ballast to Willie’s attempt to find out who her father was.

Vi had told her that he was a son of the town fathers. Willie therefore must play detective and this allows her to outline the history of the town using forgotten letters and uncover dark secrets that allows other characters to speak for themselves. For example, Sarah Franklin Temple Upton from her Journal, 1913-1933 m. Asterik “Sy” Upton 1895-1953, before she walks into the lake like Virginia Woolf with a pocketful of stones.  

Journals, letters and with a little help from a friendly, resident ghost, Willie tries to unravel the truth, while having a little fling with her childhood sweetheart.

All the parts fit in a coherent way, but some are a bit of a squash. There’s photos and portraits too, such as that of one of her forbearers and his dog—used to hunt Indians. A mish-mash of telling and showing. Worth a look. Read on.