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The Monsters of Templeton Hardcover – February 5, 2008
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"The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, The Lying Game. Pre-order today
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Amazon Best of the Month, February 2008: 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. This unsettling coincidence sets the stage for one of the most original debut novels since The Time Travelers Wife. 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). Lauren Groff's endearingly feisty characters imbue the story with enough intrigue to keep readers up long past bedtime, and reading groups will find much to discuss in its themes of "monsters," both in our towns and our families. --Mari Malcolm
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. At the start of Groff's lyrical debut, 28-year-old Wilhelmina Willie Upton returns to her picturesque hometown of Templeton, N.Y., after a disastrous affair with her graduate school professor during an archeological dig in Alaska. In Templeton, Willie's shocked to find that her once-bohemian mother, Vi, has found religion. Vi also reveals to Willie that her father wasn't a nameless hippie from Vi's commune days, but a man living in Templeton. With only the scantiest of clues from Vi, Willie is determined to untangle the roots of the town's greatest families and discover her father's identity. Brilliantly incorporating accounts from generations of Templetonians—as well as characters borrowed from the works of James Fenimore Cooper, who named an upstate New York town Templeton in The Pioneers—Groff paints a rich picture of Willie's current predicaments and those of her ancestors. Readers will delight in Willie's sharp wit and Groff's creation of an entire world, complete with a lake monster and illegitimate children.
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However, the beauty and promise of the novel's dressing only barely disguises some pretty serious flaws right at the heart of the story. As a postcard, a snapshot, or a creative exercise, the book is a success. As a tale, though, it is a disappointing flop.
The primary thrust of the book concerns a young graduate student named Willie Upton. She has returned to her tiny hometown of Templeton, New York after a disgraceful affair with her professor. Reunited with her somewhat-estranged mother, Willie's life is put on hold while she tries to figure herself out. This is encouraged by her mother, who reveals that the illegitimate Willie was actually fathered by a man in town (and not by a random hippie during a love fest, as she had originally claimed). Thus, Willie's quest for identity and redemption becomes a genealogical mystery involving nearly every older man in town.
Also, it is utterly and totally uninteresting.
Perhaps it is because genealogy interests me not a whit, especially when it becomes as convoluted as Willie's family tree. The book includes updated family trees to help the reader keep track of Willie's discoveries, which is a nice touch, but I just didn't care. In addition, the discoveries Willie made -- including the odd superpower and ghost -- mostly seemed like Groff coming up with excuses to crack her literary knuckles. Very few of the tangents provided by Willie's search seemed to cohere with the novel as a whole, making the whole thing read like a shoddily-done novel-in-stories.
Even that wouldn't be so bad (I'm a big fan of novels-in-stories, especially those of Mitchell), if Willie weren't such an awful leading lady. It is tempting to chalk Willie's near-total unlikeability up to a mistake common to first-time authors: the urge to cast one's self in the leading role. Doing so usually lends an air of realism to the character, but since people rarely like to disparage themselves, this also means the character is often without any admitted flaws, placed in obvious roles of wish-fulfillment, or simply inert. Willie falls into all three of these categories.
Oh, all the ways I could explain. First and foremost, the affair that brings her back to Templeton is not just cliched, it is also mind-bogglingly stupid, including the rather violent conclusion that Willie inexplicably tacks onto it. Add to this that Willie has a very sick, very helpful friend who is suffering from problems that seem far more interesting and worthy of novelization, but Willie is constantly steered away from this at all turns, focused instead on the utterly pointless and rather self-aggrandized task of discovering her true father. Although Willie chides herself once or twice on a few of her more selfish and thoughtless attributes, such moments of self-awareness never last long.
Ultimately, the story's central conflict -- Willie's issues with life -- is completely and totally fabricated by the lead character herself. In addition, the conflict involves and affects absolutely no one but her. In other words, a novel's most important element, the conflict, is insular, imaginary, and populated by one person. If that person were eccentric, brilliant, adventurous, bold, brave, bombastic, curious, clever, wicked, wild, or foolhardy, it might still have been salvageable. However, since that character is a whiny young university student who WANTS to have a problem, the story itself contains as much forward movement and depth as a ten year old girl's daily diary. Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me.
Groff seems to understand this, hence the well-written flashes backward in time. Hence the strange lake monster. Hence the various ghosts and miracles and mysteries. All of these things, in their own way, are interesting, but since they never impact Willie or her central quest in any realistic way (except for once, where it reads painfully like a deus ex machina), the novel ends up falling flat.
Great writing. Awful story. The book need more monsters, and they needed to be more dangerous. Here's hoping in her next book Groff gives the monsters the chance to bite.
love of, and love from the lake monster is first and foremost.
it is hinted at subtly throughout, but brought home beautifully with increasing definition and clarity through the ending chapters.
love of the town itself is next.
love of its layout, its surrounding geography and weather, its history and architecture, and most of all how its inhabitants intertwine with its beauty through the years to build its character and mystery.
as a side note, any author who draws or otherwise commissions such detailed maps of their imagination, whether it's at the scale of a town like Templeton (or Hobbiton, or Derry), the surrounding region, or the encompassing world, is someone who's spent time there, and is thus a messenger to whom we need to pay attention.
finally, love of its people.
this quality may pale somewhat in comparison to the previous two, but the story shows that despite love of the monster and the town, the people love each other too, in various and diverse ways, as depicted in an intriguingly long back-history, and even somewhat ambiguously into the present.
overall, completely surprising, and something that grows on you over time.
just like real love.
Overall it was mostly entertaining but I would have liked it a whole lot better if a few characters were left out and the supernatural stuff was either fully committed to or removed.