Publisher: Hyperion, 2008
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction
Where I Got It: Paperback Swap
My Rating: 3 stars
This was the fourth book I read for the RIP VI Challenge. Because I don’t want to get too far behind writing these reviews, I’m reviewing all my RIP books by answering the 5Ws―Who, What, When, Where, Why. Plus I’ve included my patented Scare-O-Meter Rating system so you can decide if you can handle the level of fright induced by the book.
Scare-O-Meter Rating: 1 screams out of 10. I didn’t find this book scary at all. In fact the parts with the monster that lives in the lake contained the most affecting and lovely writing of the entire book. However, if you changed “screams” to “yawns,” then maybe this book would be 7 yawns out of 10. As you’ll see, I wasn’t a big fan.
WHAT is this book about?
Willie Upton returns to her childhood town of Templeton (standing in for Cooperstown, NY) in disgrace—pregnant with her married professor’s child after a disastrous love affair. Although she vowed never to return to Templeton, she has nowhere else to turn … and she hates that she needs her ex-hippie-turned-born-again mother Vivienne to help her cope with her mess. On the day she returns to Templeton, a prehistoric monster is found floating in Lake Glimmerglass. Townspeople have heard about the mysterious Glimmy, but actual proof that it exists throws the town into a tailspin. As Willie tries to decide what to do with “The Lump” growing inside her, her mother reveals another secret: Willie’s father is actually from Templeton—not a random man from a free-love commune as Willie has always been told. This news gives Willie a purpose to her days, and she decides to fiigure out who her father is. Her only clue? Her father was also related to the town’s founding father, Marmaduke Temple. As she researches her family history, Willie discovers long-buried secrets and Templeton’s hidden history. As her family tree expands and develops, Willie begins to come to terms with her past, present and future.
WHO do we meet?
- Willie is a contradiction. Beautiful and smart, she seems to have it all together. But as we get to know her, we realize she is a complete mess—with little idea of what she wants out of life or how to get it.
- Vivienne, Willie’s mother, was the most interesting character in the book for me. Although we mostly see her through Willie’s jaundiced eyes, we come to realize she is much wiser and more caring than Willie gives her credit for.
- Clarissa is Willie’s best friend who is living in San Francisco. She is suffering from lupus and has been having some serious health and marital problems lately. Yet she is supportive of Willie, despite Willie’s oftentimes selfish behavior.
- Willie’s ancestors, the Temples, are a complex family—filled with illegitimate children, secret affairs, deceit, madness, secrets and lies. As Willie sorts through the archives in the town library, we learn about her ancestors through letters, journals and their own memories.
WHEN and WHERE does the book take place?
The book takes place in Templeton, New York in modern times, with frequent flashbacks to the past, starting from when the town was founded in 1785. As Groff writes in the Author’s Note, Templeton is really based on the history and people of her hometown of Cooperstown, New York (including James Fenimore Cooper). Yet as she was doing research, she found that:
…the facts drifted from their moorings. They began shaping themselves into stories in my head, taking over. Dates switched, babies were born who never actually existed, historical figures grew new personalities and began to do frightening things. I slowly began to notice that I wasn’t writing about Cooperstown anymore, but rather a slantwise version of the original.
WHY should you read this book?
Well, I’m not really sure that you should. I found myself slogging through this book at a snail’s pace—soldiering on when I really didn’t care all that much about it. (Why I cannot just quit a book I’m not enjoying, I don’t know. I really need to learn how to do this.) The book is very ambitious—with Groff making up an entire history for Willie’s ancestors and writing from various points of view. She even goes so far as to include pictures and photographs of the characters she is writing about. Groff also includes a Temple family tree, which keeps being updated and expanded throughout the book as Willie discovers new facts about her heritage. Groff event co-opts James Fenimore Cooper’s fictional characters (Natty Bumppo, Uncas, Cora Monroe) and includes them in the story. While I admire what she is attempting to do, it didn’t work for me as a novel. I often found it tedious, and I had a difficult time keeping all the family history stuff straight in my head.
Another major problem was that I found Willie really annoying. Plus, the big “secret” of Willie discovering her father’s identity totally fizzled for me. When we find out, my only reaction was “Huh. Whatever.” I’m also unsure why Groff included the whole prehistoric monster in the lake. I’m sure it is a metaphor for something or other, but it didn’t really fit in with the story all that well. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this book felt like a big mess … as if Groff threw a lot of things into a blender and came out with a big jumble of a narrative. At times, I could glimpse what she was trying to do, but, in the end, the book didn’t work for me at all. However, if you are a fan of James Fenimore Cooper or have been to Cooperstown, maybe this book would work better for you. It ended up not being my cup of tea at all.
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