I’ve been hearing about Lauren Groff’s Arcadia, and my friend S recommended her first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, to me. I thought I’d give it a try. Oh, man. So, so good.
In the author’s note, Groff mentions that she was trying to write about Cooperstown, NY, where she grew up. She did–sort of–by weaving in characters from James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales and drawing on his novelistic concepts. While I have not read Cooper’s works, apart from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” I found it to be intriguing and it made me want to read Cooper in a way that my undergraduate American Lit. survey did not. So that’s a point in Ms. Groff’s favor.
The novel’s concept itself seems a bit far-fetched but it works in execution: on the day that Willie (short for Wilhelmina) Upton returns to her home in Templeton in disgrace, fresh off an affair with her married archeology professor, the benevolent sea-monster in Lake Glimmerglass dies and rises to the surface of the lake. Willie’s secrets are rivaled only by those of her mother Vivienne, a reformed hippie-turned Baptist, who confesses that Willie’s father is not unknown but very much alive and living in Templeton. Willie must discover the truth for herself however, and she has only one hint: an illegitimate line leading to Marmaduke Temple, the founder of Templeton. Both of Vivienne’s parents are descendants of Marmaduke, as is Willie’s unknown father. So a mysterious tale also takes on a family tree that torses upon itself and delves into the deeps of the past through made-up letters, news reports, and journals.
If you like a good mystery, read this book. If you like literary history, read this book. If you just like really excellent writing, read this book. It’s been a favorite so far, and may be one of the best things I’ve read for the Cannonball Read.