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Pickle Me This

December 31, 2007

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Very exciting news– though it’s still 2007, I have already read one of the best books of 2008. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff comes out late January, and it’s absolutely extraordinary. A first novel you won’t believe, with all the qualities so many people liked about Special Topics in Calamity Physics, but not annoying, pretentious or gimmicky. Anything the least bit gimmicky about The Monsters of Templeton, I considered a gift actually. Lauren Groff is a bloody brilliant writer and tangible proof of this is evident in that her book contains the term “Potemkin nipple”. There is nothing more I need to say.

But of course I will continue on, because I haven’t loved a book this hard in ages. American in its scope (by which I mean big) Groff is good enough to handle her material, which begins with her narrator Willie uttering her mighty opening sentence, “The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”

Now normally monsters don’t turn me on, but Groff has done something quite original here. The magic not even questioned amidst such a solid realism, but a realism so bizarre that no magic could be contested. And also magic and realism so original– could there be anything more entrancing than a ghost like this one: “To my mother it had looked like a bird; to me a washed-out inkstain, a violet shadow so vague and shy that it was only perceivable indirectly, like a leftover halo from gazing at a bare bulb too long.”

Willie has returned to Templeton (a fictional version of Groff’s own hometown, Cooperstown, NY) “in disgrace”, her mother taking her mind off her problems with the revelation that Willie’s father is not who she’d thought he was. But who he is exactly, Willie’s mother won’t say, and it is up to Willie to solve the mystery, tracing her complicated family history back to her ancestor, the founder of Templeton. Characters from the past get their own chapters, Willie’s world also filled out by exceptionally brilliant secondary characters– her best friend and her mom, the male joggers who run through town first thing in the morning in particular. Willie herself is an amazing creation– gutsy, smart, funny, weak and strong.

The main character in the novel is Templeton, however, and Groff invests the town with such beauty. With a spirit threatening to fade when the monster dies, when all seems bleakest, but there is so much hope, and such a gorgeous ending: “and it is good.” I finished reading this last night near 1am, and couldn’t sleep for a long time, just thinking about it, and smiling.

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