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.  

Robert A. Caro (1990 [2006]) The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2, Means of Ascent.

On page 402, towards the end of this second volume of the rise and rise of Lyndon Johnson, Robert A.Caro offers an insight into the former President’s personality.

For a President to preserve as a personal memento a photograph showing the notorious Box 13 in the possession of his political allies—a photograph which by implication provides that someone was indeed in a positon to stuff it—is startling in itself. For him to display the photograph to a hostile journalist is evidence of a psychological need so deep that its demands could not be resisted. It is continuing evidence of the fact that even his possession of the presidency had eased the insecurities of his youth.

In a week that the moron’s moron starts his impeachment trial by the Senate this is perhaps a good book to study.

There is little doubt that President Trump is guilty of all charges levelled against him from #Me too to crook too. He’s an abomination, but that didn’t stop him from becoming President. In fact, it was regarded as an asset. He would be telling others how it is.  What the Trump team did was very much like LBJ did they used the new technology of their age to target voters.

LBJ used helicopters and control of the media, primarily radio stations. He also used slush funds to generate more cash than had ever been spent in the history of Texas to buy political power.

The moron’s moron’s team, ironically, used the Obama tactics of weaponising social media. Fake Facebook accounts were targeted at key states as they are now being for the next election. Russian influence played its part, but LBJ was one of the first to realise it didn’t matter what you said, as long as you repeated it enough it had the patina of truth and then the other guy became the liar.

In a world of right and wrong and moral order LBJ would have been as screwed as any one of the moron moron’s servants. Both Presidents shared the capacity to demand total loyalty.

Caro juxtaposes LBJ’s fight for a senate seat with ‘Mr Texas’ Coke Stevenson. Think Atticus Finch here from To Kill a Mocking Bird and fling in a bit of John Wayne.  A man that built his own house by hand and dug his own fence posts and could pretty much do anything from building bridges to representing plaintiffs in court and winning the case. He never took a case where he thought the client was guilty. Prices for his services were written on chalk for all to see. He could not be bought. He had integrity. He had core beliefs where LBJ and the moron’s moron had a for-hire sign.

LBJ was an incredibly adapt creature of the political wrangling class, a lion among wolves. The moron’s moron is a child in a man’s body that nobody has said boo too—and there lies the danger. His stupidity could lead literally to the next world war. It has already helped diminished the chance of saving our planet without a massive loss of human life and biodiversity.  

Nobody much is interested in Box 13, or that old stuff called history. The guys in the photograph LBJ showed a hostile reporter are Texans that stole enough votes and stuffed them into Box 13 so that LBJ could become a Senator in the 1948 race. The equivalent would be the moron’s moron showing a New York Times reporter Trump standing in a Moscow hotel room with Putin, while Russia prostitutes piss on his bed. Or the moron’s moron standing with his hand on the shoulder of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and a speech bubble coming from the American President’s mouth asking him to dig up dirt on Joe Biden—or else.

LBJ knew that’s not the way power works. Senators might swear to be impartial, but we know that’s the kind of horseshit Coke Stevenson would have smartly wiped from his cowboy boots. 20 Republicans need to side the Democratic block vote to win the three-quarter majority to find the moron’s moron guilty. And like LBJ, the moron’s moron is always keen to leave a paperless trail. Admit to nothing, let the minions take the hits and then damn them for being crass liars, interested only in themselves and the next pay-packet. Accuse them of being greedy, of being bought.   Loyalty to self is the only thing worth preserving. Everyone else, everything else, expendable.

The greatest irony of all is that impeachment works in the moron moron’s favour. It provides proof to his followers that he’s stirred up the hornet’s nest. With no Hillary Clinton to bait, it’s the next best thing. Power follows the money. I hate to say it about the next election, but the moron’s moron—