I finished this book today, and oh goodness was it lovely. It’s the story of Willie Upton, who returns to her hometown in disgrace after having an affair with her dissertation professor while on a dig with him in Alaska, and then trying to run down his wife in a plane. (I know!) And she’s pregnant. Her home town is Templeton, named after her ancestor who founded the town, and another ancestor is an acclaimed American writer, so she’s kind of a local celebrity.
On the day she returns, a gigantic beast washes up on the shore of the lake, and her mother confesses that her father, who she previously understood to be one of three guys from her mom’s hippy days in San Francisco is really someone from Templeton. But her mom won’t tell her who it is, and will only give her one clue as to his identity.
This sets Willie on a search through her family’s convoluted and somewhat crazy history, which is laid out both in documents and first person accounts by the ancestors. It develops into a rich and wide picture of the history of a city; from before it’s development when Native Americans lived on the land through current time. As Willie learns more about her family, we learn more about the town, the mistakes people made, the madness that can be passed through families, and not least, the lake monster, who could have been a weird gimmicky element but ended up being a really lovely metaphor that worked on a number of levels.
It’s one of those books that holds a world that exists on it’s own, and when you put it down you can’t help but believe that life is continuing on there. The author, Lauren Groff, based it (kind of) on her life growing up in Cooperstown; she describes it as a slantwise version of the original, and I think that contributes greatly to it’s feeling so genuine and complete.
Current total: 2
Just finished: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
Next Up: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith