Review : The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
Pages : 361
Genre : a little of everything
My Rating :

Remember that time when you were a kid, when your parents told you not to do something and you thought, “oh whatever” and did it anyway? Like, let’s say, they told you not to pet the neighboor’s dog and you did it, the dog bit you and your parents had to rush you to the hospital not minding the speed limit, and then once your hand was better your mother said “I told you so” and you father added “Now you know better”?

Now, replace the dog by The Monsters of Templeton and the parents by all the bloggers who wrote detailed reviews about it, and you’ve got a good idea of how I’m feeling right now. But first, let’s look at the story’s basics;

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.

It looked good, and it seemed to have everything I would love; magical realism, a map of the town, a monster, ghosts, a very wrong love affair, beautiful cover art, pictures and letters through the book, etc. I wanted to love it so much that I  made a point of ignoring any review that seemed negative about it. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Well, yes, it could.

Groff isn’t a bad writer. In fact, I really believe that she is talentful, and I would be curious to read something else by her when she’ll write something new, as long as the feeling of disappointment that now inhabits me is gone. She had some interesting characters, many great ideas and a good enough writing.

What is the problem then, you’ll ask me? For me, it was mainly all “too much”. Too many characters. Too many different voices to tell a single story. And, mainly, too many genres mixed together – as if I took everything from my fridge and threw it in the mixer. Definitely not a good idea (another thing my parents would probably tell me not to do). Sometimes, a little less is a lot better.

Willie was interesting enough. A little childish at time, but at least she knew it. She was the narrator of my favorite chapters in the book, and I wish she could have been the only one. Sadly, every other chapter, someone else is telling you part of the story; the “runners” of the town, letters from her ancesters, journals, etc. The changes were so numerous that they lost all surprise effect while keeping you from getting attached to the main character, Willie.

Once I finished reading it, I went around a few blogs to read some reviews. When I read Steph’s review, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the part where she insists on the ridiculous characters names; to name a few, Remarkable Prettybones,  Euphonia Shipman, Wilhelmina Sunshine Upton, etc. Something interesting, though, is that two names are missing from her list that really made me cringe.

First, the book opens on Dr. Cluny; I am sorry to say I couldn’t help but to think of George Clooney on ER! I can’t blame the author for my brainwashed-by-pop-culture head though, so I dismissed it and continued reading. Then came preacher John Melkovitch. Yes, John Melkovitch. Not John Malkovitch the actor. Change a letter and you got yourself a whole new guy. My brain was on wheels though, and I started wondering: was this intentional from the author? Was it some obscure reference to Malkovitch’s life or career? Was this supposed to be a “wink” to a favorite actor? Or was the author not a movie person who heard the name somewhere and thought it sounded cool enough? 

See, that’s exactly what I don’t want to happen when I read a good book: be distracted from the story and start wondering about the author’s writing. A good fiction can make you travel through space and time, make you laugh or cry, teach you, help you, surprise you, make you sleepless, and so on. But what it shouldn’t do is make you wondering about small, unimportant details.

And finally, last but not least, the dialogue was, at some points, absolytely unbelievable. Maybe it was part of the story’s “magic”, but I felt as if the characters were talking one aside each other rather than to each other. 

So maybe I just didn’t “get it”, as some say, but The Monsters of Templeton will definitely not be on my “Best books of 2009” list.

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2 responses to “Review : The Monsters of Templeton”

  1. Steph says :

    Even though I would fall squarely into the “I told you so!” camp, I am sorry that you also didn’t like this book. I agree withe so much of what you said – namely that there is too much going on here, the dialogue is unbelievable, and especially about the writing being a distraction. Truly great writers can write lines that make your heart skip a beat and yet make it seem effortless, and more importantly, enhance the story. Instead, Groff’s prose was really distracting and kind of felt like a garbage disposal system that is trying to churn up whatever gets thrown its way. It’s a shame because like you, I think she is a talented writer, but things just went horribly awry!

    I knew in writing the review that I had missed some of the terrible names, but I think I had already returned the book at that point. I should have mentioned John Melkovitch, but I think I just wanted to forget that that had happened!

  2. Priscilla says :

    Oh dear. Another bad review for this one. Well, at least I can say this much: her story collection, Delicate Edible Birds, was quite wonderful. I recommend that one instead!

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