There is something spectacular about a book whose first line lures you into its spell like a siphon and never lets you go. In my 36 years of reading, there has only been two books whose first lines I’ve memorized and cannot forget:
“Call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick (who hasn’t had that beaten into their skulls with an ice pick?)
“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” Gone with the Wind
With that line, I fell in love with Scarlett and couldn’t wait to find out just what it was about her that had men panting like exercised puppies. There was no way I could not read the book after just that first sentence – and I never thought to. With the noted exception of Moby Dick, I’ve found that a compelling first sentence isn’t a fluke. It’s a sign of a gifted author and a book worthy of reading.
The fact of the matter is that most books I’ve read and even those I’ve enjoyed immensely begin forgettably. This is the 41st book I’ve read this year and prior to picking up this book, not a single first sentence has struck me this year – and I’ve read some great novels. So, when I read, re-read, and then could not stop thinking about:
“The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”
I knew that this would be a book I would love. I finished this book as satisfied as I was with the first sentence. This is a novel that I will keep forever and re-read several times.
The Monsters of Templeton is the story of Willie Sunshine Upton, a young graduate student who unexpectedly returns to her ancestral home “steeped in disgrace” just as her home town is overcome with media upon the discovery of an as-of-yet undiscovered mammalian creature. The existence – or actually previous existence – of the monster gives this novel a Gothic feel. This along with the mystery of Willie’s famous family prove to work together well.
Willie returned to her mother, Vi, in hopes of finding a safe place to lick her wounds before facing the responsibilities and consequences of the choices she’d recently made. Vi, a single mother and former hippy, refuses to let her daughter settle, even if it is into shame. As a result of her recent radical religious conversion, Vi feels the need to come clean to Willie. She tells her that she is not the product of an orgy-istic time in San Francisco. In fact, Willie’s father is alive and well in Templeton. He never knew of her existence. When Willie asks who he is, Vi refuses to tell her. She provides only a single clue: he, just like Willie and Vi, is related to Marmaduke Temple, the father of Templeton. It was as if Vi through down the gauntlet. Willie, no matter how down her current circumstances have made her, cannot sit still having this mystery hanging around her. Her archaeological dig through her family’s past proves to be an enchanting and humorous adventure.
I don’t want to give away many details in this review. I enjoyed uncovering things along the way with Willie. I will say (that just about everything else recently in my life) that there was a strong connection for me between Vi and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Both characters hold an important truth that could very easily be given to the young woman in need: Willie needs to know who her father is and Dorothy needs to know how to get back to Kansas. If this information was simply handed over, what would have happened? Neither Willie nor Dorothy would never grasped or appreciated the importance of family in their souls. In that way, what both characters needed was the discovery as much as the truth. Given that Glinda is traditionally played by the same actress as Auntie Em, it seems that teaching a child to learn for herself is the mark of the best mother/mother figure.
The Monsters of Templeton is mainly narrated by Willie, but there are also sections narrated by The Running Buds, Templeton’s jogging protectors, and several of Willie’s ancestors. I found myself drawn into the genealogical research myself. The pictures, portraits, and family trees along the way also made me feel included. Just as with Special Topics in Calamity Physics, they enhance the experience and do not feel out of place.
One of the best things about reading this book was the humor. There were several times I found myself chuckling out loud while I was reading. I don’t do that very often. It was this humor that endeared the book and its characters to me. Perhaps it was because I am of a similar age to Willie’s character that I found the sarcasm and smack talk genuine. It is such a pleasure to read a book that is both interesting and fun.
** Thank you Barnes and Noble for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this book. Your First Look Book Club is an incredible opportunity. **
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