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I decided to read this book as on the back cover there was a review by Stephen King and i thought lets give it a go. I found this book to be an exceptional read. It takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions and times and is littered with photos throughout. It is a book set in modern times but through the readings and research of the main female character Willie Upton it takes you also into the past. It is partly a fantasy novel but does not contain the normal menagerie of dwarves and elves and i found that very refreshing. There is love, death, friendship and sorrow throughout the book and i liked and cared for the characters - the author makes them real. I would recommend this book to women and men. I read it in a week and did not want to put it down and as Stephen King says i was sad when it ended. I look forward to reading more from Lauren Groff.
I have been becoming increasingly frustrated with the books I've chosen to read lately, and I can only really think of two books in the last couple of months that I have actually enjoyed and looked forward to picking up when I had the chance. So when I got to this book on my bookshelf, I was desperately hoping that the inviting title, back page summary and enticing book illustrations (not the ones featured here on dooyoos picture) were going to be another to add to my very short list of recommended books for this year.
Willie Upton returns to her home town of Templeton in New York the very same day that an enormous monster is discovered dead, floating on top of Templetons lake Glimmerglass.
The death of this 50 foot monster signifies more than one shocking discovery for Willie, whose ancestors were the founders of the town. Willie returns home after a shameful affair with her archaeology professor on a field trip becomes public knowledge and his wife finds out. Willie also discovers that she is pregnant. Arriving at her childhood home, Willie's hippie turned born again Baptist mother tells Willie that she is holding a secret from her - having told Willie previously that her biological father could be one of a few men after her time of "free loving", she in fact knows exactly who the father is - he is a man from the very same town. Her mother won't tell Willie exactly who the man is only that Willie knows him and so it is up to her to discover the truth.
Whilst Willie's love life is in utter turmoil, she decides to put her research skills to work and focus on the history of her family to find her real father. Her only clue from what her mum has told her is that her real father also has ties to the history of Templeton and her own family line. By going back through her family history and reading letters, editorials and journal histories, interesting stories rise up from her long dead ancestors and reveal more secrets and truths than she can ever imagine.
Before I go any further, I can say - thank God - that this book exceeded my expectations in so many ways. I'm not quite sure what I expected from a story such as this, but it managed to tug at my imagination and I could barely put it down.
Glimmey From Glimmerglass Lake
There are so many elements of this story that is pulled together in this book and at first I thought that the dead lake monster ("Glimmey" as he is nicknamed after the lake) would be the main focal point of this book. In fact, although this was a nice touch and a lot was made of the discovery in the first few chapters of the book, I quickly became absorbed into the Templeton/Upton story and soon forgot about Glimmey altogether. It wasn't until the very end of the book that the reader is reminded of his presence in the lake for all these years - and how his death seemed to trigger the putting to bed of so many Templeton secrets that had remained buried the whole time Glimmey was roaming the lake. Don't worry, that hasn't ruined the story at all - Glimmey the monster, as I have mentioned merely bookmarks the beginning and end of the Templeton mystery, cleverly done and helped give Templeton a sense of magic that I feel some of Templetons forefathers had created through their unique lives.
Templeton's Family History....
The majority of the story is divided into chapters that depict certain stories from Willie's various ancestors. I particularly liked how each chapter was also complimented by either photographs of Willie's ancestors themselves, or there was a family tree that was (constantly!) being revised as Willie discovered more truths about her ancestors. I found it particularly helpful to have this family tree - which leads me to my only criticism of this book - how difficult It was to keep tabs on who married who etc. With the amount of characters and entwining of families in Willie's family history, it is inevitable that names, marriages and children are going to get confusing so this family tree was extremely useful!
When it came to reading about the history of how she came about, this was presented in several different forms which kept me from ever being bored with the material and stories I was reading. When it came to the founder of Templeton, Marmaduke Templeton, I was transported back to the time of his womanizing by reading the story first hand from the housekeeper and various other characters, whereas when I was reading about Marmadukes son, I was reading excerpts from his diary that Willie discovered through her very own ghost! As you can imagine, this book has far too many elements for it to ever become tiresome.
All of Willie's ancestors seem to have some quirk about them that makes them interesting and there is nearly always some humour injected into each chapter about her ancestors, but, out of all the stories, there are two that particularly stuck out for me. Willie comes across some correspondence between two of her relatives that has been left to her mother from her grandfather - marked "contents disturbing and painful". Of course, I cannot reveal the contents but needless to say, I found these characters and their stories extremely entertaining and was impressed with how their stories came alive purely through the medium of letter writing to each other. The other story I cannot really say about as it would spoil the outcome of the book.
Although I have said that the history of the Templeton's and the community was the most interesting of the book, that does not mean that Willie's own story is weak in comparison. Throughout the book, the reader is drawn back into Willie adjusting to life in Templeton, her relationship with her mother, the high school "stud" who just won't leave her alone, the best friend who is seriously ill all add drama to her already full life of working out who she is to deal with her lover who has made her pregnant. However, it is how she is piecing the clues of her heritage together that makes the modern day most fascinating. By looking up all these stories of her ancestors, she is eliminating and linking up members of the past to see how her father and her mothers ancestors crossed.
As the reader, I got to read about various members of Templeton's modern society so I was keen to find out who it is that fathered Willie and how the Templeton blood has once again linked up in Willie's parents as it had done so many times before in her family history!
The author and her inspiration...
For a first novel, I think this is just an incredible feat of imagination. The preface of this book explains how the author, Lauren Groff, wanted to write about her own home town but Templeton was somehow developed. Groff herself grew up in Cooperstown, NY made famous by its celebrated son, James Fenimore Cooper. Cooper himself fictionalised Cooperstown to Templeton and so Groff has similarly copied this style, and a lot of her characters in this book can be referenced directly to work by Cooper also.
I think the fact that Groff feels such an affinity to her own home town has only helped her writing this book as it is full of love and affection for its history and community
Seeing all the elements in this book written down, I can see how it could look like a big mish-mash of styles and too many stories in one book. This is really not the case and Willie's modern day issues are merely sub plots to finding out who her father is and finding out the true history of her ancestors and town. This book is a complete success in my eyes, full of vivid imagery and characters, humour, fun, history and imagination. I look forward to more work by Lauren Groff in the future.