Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I don't care who your dad is - bring me more sea monster!

Book: The Monsters of Templeton
Author: Lauren Goff
Published: 2008 (Voice)
Pages: 361

Excellent premise: a lake monster surfaces in a small New England town, supposedly bringing up all sorts of family/town secrets with it from the murky depths. Down-on-her-luck town daughter returns from her plane crash affair of an academic career and starts to dig in. Neat, huh?

Yeah, except the monster didn’t have anything to do with much of anything except itself. I loved its parts, where it surfaced and how it sunk back down after the town had its fun and mystery scavenged to death, but they were those sort of makeshift bookends you use when you don’t want to pay like $50 for the real, matching-set thing.

In the middle, the daughter does a serviceable job of scrounging up her family’s history and pasting it together with the town’s to find out who her real dad was. There were bits from old letters and diaries and portraits that made for good changes of tone when the present day tone started to feel too much like an “are you my daddy?” episode of a daytime talk show. Not like Maury or anything, not that bad, but maybe one of Oprah’s adoption reveal specials. (She did those, right? If not, imagine she did. Or sell her that idea for me and give me 100% commission.)

But the problem is, the central ancestry mystery never seemed all that urgent by itself and it never integrated hints of or explicit elements of magical realism connected with the lake monster like I thought it would. The girl’s mom literally doesn’t tell her who her dad is because. Just because. It gives the anthropologist daughter a good human puzzle to work on, but honestly, the solution doesn’t really change anything for her. 

I was also looking forward to the collective voice that Groff uses so well in a couple of her short stories. It seemed perfect for this kind of town-as-a-character mix I thought she was trying to get, but the only collective voice is the group of guys who run together every morning and have for the last couple decades; again, nice idea, but it ends up falling into broad general guys-getting-old stuff that squanders chances to add any sort of real character to the town.

Sigh. I dunno, I still liked this book, but it was a lot more gossipy than ethereal, so I guess I’ll leave it piled somewhere until my new bookshelf starts getting full and so will my baseboard spaces and I’ll have to make a decision to keep from drowning in words (but what a beautiful way to die!). 

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