Tag Archives: Lauren Groff

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Monsters of TempletonFirst, a few details to address before we get to award-winning Lauren Groff‘s down-the-rabbit-hole, delightfully convoluted debut novel …

If you choose to go audible, the publishing world offers two versions: I went with Ann Marie Lee (via the local library), although the (later) more readily available recording is by Nicole Roberts. As long as Lee stays away from accents, her narration is just grand. Her version, however, doesn’t include Groff’s opening “Author’s Note,” so you’ll need to find those two pages in print (or stick Roberts in your ears) as they are dense with contextual information.

Templeton is real. Sort of. Templeton is based on Groff’s hometown of Cooperstown, New York, that baseball Mecca named after James Fenimore Cooper‘s father William, the town’s 18th-century founder. Quakers, house by the lake, Yale, great novelists with initials that begin with J.F. – do remember some of those real-life details.

Cooper rechristened the town ‘Templeton’ in The Pioneers, his novel about Cooperstown, in which “his facts also went a little awry,” Groff explains. She herself initially intended to “write a love story for Cooperstown,” but she realized hers was “a slantwise version of the original.” Groff adapted Cooper’s ‘pioneer’-ing approach, as well as some of Cooper’s characters, including Marmaduke Temple, Natty Bumppo, and Chingachgook. “In the end, fiction is the craft of telling truth through lies. I ended up with a different sort of story about my town than the one I had begun.”

So now … welcome to Monsters, of which Templeton seems to have many. “The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace,” confesses protagonist Willie Upton – a few months short of finishing her Stanford PhD in archeology, and pregnant by her married advisor – “the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.” That titular beast is the town’s least benign, and symbol it may be, it’s alas a rather unnecessary diversion from the rest of the narrative.

Having nearly killed her lover’s wife in a spectacular plane chase on the frozen Alaskan tundra, Willie returns to Templeton and her mother Vi in a think-later state of shock. With the discovery of the town’s monster, home is not the calm escape Willie expected. Her former flower-child mother has unexpectedly embraced religion, claiming the town’s pastor as her boyfriend. Hoping to purge her past wrongdoings, Vi confesses that Willie’s wild birthstory involving three potential donors is untrue, and that Willie’s father is actually a shall-not-be-named Templetonian, which means Willie’s heretofore unknown paternal link shares the same blue blood as mother and daughter. Willie’s challenge to dig up her lineage is just the insane sort of project to restore her sanity …

Interwoven with Willie’s personal quest is an acerbic, possibly dying best friend on the other side of the country, the “Running Buds,” a homecoming King too attracted to his returning Queenie, a transformed “Peter-Lieder-Pudding-and-Pie,” not to mention a sprawling, entangled family tree that includes ghosts, slaves, Native Americans, murderers, cheaters, and, of course, writers. From that epic monster mash came forth Wilhelmina Sunshine Upton … and she’s not leaving again until she’s unearthed all her buried roots.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2008

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Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Arcadia.GroffAlthough I haven’t read any actual reviews, I know from seeing this title included in so many Best-of-2012 lists that the lauded reactions have reflected both quantity and quality. Leave it to me to take a somewhat contrary position: while I went through the whole gamut of emotions with Arcadia (narrator Andrew Garman begins with just enough wide-eyed youthful innocence that gently morphs into a middle-aged resignation), by title’s end, I still preferred Lauren Groff‘s 2009 collection, Delicate Edible Birds and Other Storiesand I could certainly name other 2012 titles that I would give more substantial kudos.

Arcadia follows some four decades in the life of Bit Stone, named so because he “is tiny, a mote of a boy.” His claim to local fame is that he’s the first child born on the 1960s commune in upstate New York called Arcadia – initially known as Ersatz Arcadia before the proper Arcadia House is built. The book’s first half follows Bit’s boyhood as he introspectively observes the ecstatic hope of founding a utopian society, and its inevitable demise through too much drugs and sex, and not enough objective leadership.

Fast forward suddenly to Bit as a father, cuddling his young daughter Grete who is not yet sleepy. Absent is Bit’s wife, she who was Helle – wild, troubled, and lost again – the daughter of Arcadia’s wayward leader. On the wall across from their daughter’s bed is a mural, as yet unfinished, that captures Bit’s memories of an Arcadia that no longer exists, a time still heady with beauty and potential. All grown up and out in the ‘real world,’ Bit is a professor of photography; he tries to keep his splintered family together, be both parents to his only child, keep up with a few scattered friends, and teach his students. When a tragic emergency calls him back to Arcadia where his father went gone off-the-grid years ago, Bit is led back to his past … and finally begins to envision a future.

While the whole book is gorgeously written – Groff conjures intimate details with such evocative precision as to place you right there on every page – the two halves read like opposites: the first half is predictably foreseen, the second half unexpectedly fresh. That said, to fully appreciate (sigh and sniffle over) the latter, you’ll need to patiently invest 150 pages in the former. For me, no regrets; curiosity would not have let this book go unread.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff

Delicate Edible BirdsIf the name Lauren Groff sounds familiar, that might be because her latest title, Arcadia, appears on oh-so-many Best-of-2012 lists. I admit I haven’t yet read Arcadia (it’s high in my ‘must-read’ pile), but if I have the option among an author’s titles, short stories are usually my first choice.

Just as I clicked ‘on’ knowing nothing more than the lauded reputation associated with Groff’s name, I hope not to dampen anyone else’s eyebrow-raising, shudder-inducing surprise factor. That means you might want to stop here, or you’ll have to risk even the bare minimum being too much …

In “Lucky Chow Fun,” the only girl swimmer on the high school team watches as the discovery of a human trafficking operation destroys the idyllic haze that protected her small town. Swimming transforms the legendary real-life 12th-century lovers, Abelard and Heloise, into 20th-century “L. DeBard and Aliette,” an Olympian and his teenaged wheelchair-bound protegé. In “Majorette,” the oldest daughter in a dysfunctional family finally finds comfort, stability, and lasting happiness. Dysfunction ceaselessly controls the relationship between two intimate friends in “Blythe.” Always maintaining distance, the ex-pat wives bear witness to the slow destruction of “The Wife of the Dictator.”

A professional storyteller becomes the wife of a childhood friend in “Watershed,” only to have her narrative cut short. In “Sir Fleeting,” a Midwestern farm girl reinvents her own personal narrative to eventually match, even surpass, that of the glamorous playboy who appears in and out of her life. In “Fugue” – so aptly named as the most intricate story in the collection – disintegrating relationships overlap and overpower. And, in “Delicate Edible Birds,” again, the lone woman among men, this time in a pack of war correspondents during World War II, falls prey to inhumanity.

All nine stories later, I know I chose remarkably well! [Stuck in the ears – narrated by Susan Eriksen who's amply capable of multiple nuanced voices – the collection makes for mesmerizing running/walking/laundry-folding company; you'll just keep going in order to listen!] From absolving to traitorous, from desperate to destructive, each story is a complete narrative to absorb, appreciate, and ultimately admire. Now, Arcadia, here I come!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Nonethnic-specific