Lauren Groff’s debut novel, the Monsters of Templeton is so beautifully written that it made me want to put my pen down in despair of ever writing as well. But as the plot was as good as the prose, I kept on reading instead of worrying about my abilities.
The novel is set in Templeton, an imaginary town modeled after Cooperstown, NY. The novel’s main character is Wilhemina “Willie” Upton, the last descendant of Templeton’s founder, Marmaduke Temple. At 28, Willie goes home to her mother in disgrace, pregnant from an affair with her married professor. While trying to put her life back together, Willie goes up her family tree, researching her colorful, idiosyncratic ancestors one by one.
Groff is clearly a master of character development as the Monsters of Templeton is filled with unforgettable people with original names. Groff pays such attention to detail in her descriptions that every detail is vivid. Her introduction of Willie’s mother is a perfect example, “A girl was in the sun on a shuddering bus, a rash of acne across her cheekbones. Her polyester dress had been dyed black in the ladies’ room sink of some midwestern terminal, and the dye job was clearly quick and recent: the orange flowers were still bursting across the fabric, though now a cindered color, and there were black marks like bruises wherever the dress touched her skin.” Even the minor characters are drawn exquisitely, from the Running Buds, a group of old men who have been running together every morning since they were young to Ezekiel Felcher, the gorgeous car tower who was Willie’s prom date.
When I wasn’t busy underlining paragraphs like, “The enormous, pulsing world seemed so treacherous at that moment, sirens bursting up the streets toward danger, toward death, everything in turmoil. During the winter after the attack on New York City, the country was grim, gray, a wobble away from a headlong fall into apocalypse. The world as I knew it was always just about to end; we were fragile; I was fragile. It would take just a nudge for my own self to free-fall,” I was devouring the Monsters of Templeton for plot. I couldn’t wait to find out whether Willie would be able to put her life back together and what she would discover about her crazy ancestors.
All I will say is that the ending didn’t disappoint.
Lauren Groff has another book out now called Delicate Edible Birds. It’s a collection of short stories that is sitting on my nightstand. I’ll report back soon to let you know if I enjoyed it as much as the Monsters of Templeton.