Friday, October 9, 2015

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff - Great Start, Okay Middle, Not-So-Great Ending

I've already shared with you my visit to A Great Good Place for Books last Tuesday to see Lauren Groff.  I told you how Kathleen, the owner, convinced me to go.  And, as you also know, I enjoyed Lauren a lot.  So I immediately shot her book, The Monsters of Templeton, to the top of the TBR pile.  And now I'm done.  What did I think?  Let's start with a Goodreads summary:

On the very morning Willie Upton slinks home to Templeton, New York (after a calamitous affair with her archeology professor), the 50-foot-long body of a monster floats from the depths of the town's lake.

With a clue to the mysterious identity of her father in hand, Willie turns her research skills to unearthing the secrets of the town in letters and pictures (which, "reproduced" in the book along with increasingly complete family trees, lend an air of historical authenticity).

As the title of the post states, this book was pretty much evenly divided into 3 parts.  The 1st 130 pages were great.  In fact, just past the 1/3 mark, I made a note that said "literary, but readable - like Conroy."  I mean, c'mon, comparing anybody to Conroy?  The author who has 3 books in my top 25 all-time?

What happened next, you ask?  The 2nd 3rd of the book spent a fair amount of time going back to various ancestors and letting them speak in their own voices.  I didn't like the throw/flashbacks as well as the stories that centered on Willie, family, and friends.

The 3rd 3rd was the killer for me.  There was a lot more storytelling by ancestors.  And I didn't much care for those particular ancestors or their stories.  Since I gave the book a 2.75/4, I think I basically matched the ratings on Amazon and Goodreads.  They're both around 3.5/5.  Close.  I'm too lazy to read other reviews.  But I imagine some of those reviewers agree with me.

Oftentimes I will list those things that I liked about a book.  I want to do that here, too.

1.  Lauren Groff is a very good writer (but I already told you that).
2.  There are 6 friends in their mid-50s who jog every day and have been doing it for almost 30 years.  I really enjoyed it every time Lauren focused on them.  In fact, there was one morning while I was reading Monsters that I happened to be strolling downtown where I live and saw a group of 6 middle-aged men walking together.  I kid you not.  I had to smile.
3.  Even though this is a work of fiction, I very much enjoyed the old-timey pictures that Lauren used to illustrate Willie's ancestors.  They look very real.  It reminds me of Steve Sporleder's From Sleepy Lagoon to the Corner of the Cats.  The picture on the cover of Steve's book (also black and white, like those in Monsters) looks so real.
4.  I liked how Willie kept updating her Genealogy of the Temple Family as she learned more about her family's history.  The revisions were fun to read.
5.  I liked a quote from Lauren's Author's Note before the book even begins.  She says that "In the end, fiction is the craft of telling the truth through lies."  Pretty cool, don't you think?
6.  I liked Stephen King's endorsement:  "Lauren Groff's debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, is everything a reader might have expected from this gifted writer, and more...There are monsters, murders, bastards, and ne'er-do-wells almost without number.  I was sorry to see this rich and wonderful novel come to an end."  I obviously don't agree with him, but I still liked what he had to say.

I feel strongly that there are many books that most people would agree on.  I also feel equally strongly that The Monsters of Templeton is not one of those books.  Kathleen, the owner of A Great Good Place for Books, loved The Monsters of Templeton a lot.  Obviously Stephen King really did too.  I didn't.  But you may want to decide for yourself.

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