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March 20, 2008

Book Notes - Lauren Groff ("The Monsters of Templeton")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton is one of the most inventive and fascinating debut novels I have read in years. Monsters, flashbacks, and even James Fennimore Cooper characters meld to create a book I simply cannot stop recommending to family and friends.

In her own words, here is Lauren Groff's Book Notes essay for her novel, The Monsters of Templeton:

I can't listen to songs with lyrics that I understand while I write, but before and after the hours in which I wrote my first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, I listened to the following songs on repeat. While I write, I listen to whatever classical music I have (and now can hum the Goldberg Variations in their entirety, which is not a very useful skill). Compiling this list was a very strange exercise because I can see very clearly how each song influenced my book and charged it with energy.

Here goes:

1) Glósóli--Sigur Rós

Monsters begins with a simultaneous arrival and death; the first line goes: "The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass." Over time, we come to see that the monster is not only a primordial missing-link-like creature, but also the major metaphor in the book. Sigur Rós writes the most incredible writing music out there, and this song is my monster--there's this wonderful half-marching beat and water background, and the singer's eerily gorgeous voice floats and feels ancient and powerful. Even after thousands of listens, it still makes me want to weep.

2) Jesus, Etc.--Wilco

There's something so funny and sad about this song that I've loved it from the day I first heard Yankee Hotel Foxtrot--it reminds my of my narrator's mother, Vivienne, who is a former hippie-turned-Baptist-convert (sort-of). She's wry and loving and tired and bold and doesn't take crap from anyone, which is why I love her. She has a secret for Willie, my narrator, which will send Willie through two centuries of her family's history.

3) Hide and Seek--Imogen Heap

By now, you should probably know that the structure of my book is a little wild--there's not only Willie's contemporary narrative and the letters and journals and editorials that she digs up, there are also testimonials from historical figures (some of whom I've stolen from James Fenimore Cooper) and a Greek Chorus called the Running Buds, a group of middleaged fellows who run together every morning and are based on my father's group of running friends. This is an ingenious song--Imogen Heap sings a Capella with her own digitized voice, and the result is stunning and moving and strange. I tried to create a similar effect with my structure that she has, so succinctly and wonderfully, in this song.

4) My Number--Tegan and Sara

I love the drive and power of this one--you get a sense of something very dark and secret happening under the lyrics. Plus, they talk about drowning, which is apropos in a book in which there are a lot of drowned people.

5) Quelqu'un M'a Dit--Carla Bruni

Know that Bruni is now the French President's sexbomb wife, was a supermodel extraordinaire and the scion of a ridiculously wealthy Italian family and, if you can get over the nauseating envy, be pleasantly surprised by this song. There's a sweetness and gentleness to it--the lyrics essentially mean "someone told me that you still love me." This is germane to Monsters because when Willie comes home she finds Felcher, a guy from high school, who still is a little bit smitten with her, to her vast dismay.

And then a lot more happens, which I'm going to skip (you'll know it all if you read the book) so that I'll get more quickly to....

6) Hallelujah--Jeff Buckley

I can't think of another more gorgeous and bittersweet song than this. It encapsulates what my narrator, Willie, feels in the final chapter when she's driving away from Templeton and into another, different life.

7) Polegnala E Todora (Theodora Is Dozing)--Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic

I love a Capella music, and this song is devastating--I actually have it in two versions, and I like this one better and played it innumerable times as I wrote Monsters. There's a rough beauty in the harmonizing, a quiet, prayerlike quality that makes it perfect for my epilogue, which I wrote to be a kind of an incantation of creation and loss, in its own way.

Bonus song: On The Radio--Regina Spektor

I can't think of another song that so cleanly defines what it's like to write. Spektor sings in this wacky, lovely song, "...this is how it works/ You peer inside yourself/ You take the things you like/ And try to love the things you took/ And then you take that love you made/ And stick it into some/ Someone else's heart/ Pumping someone else's blood..." Amen, sister.

Lauren Groff and The Monsters of Templeton links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's other blog
the author's Wikipedia entry
the book's website
excerpt from the novel

Baby Got Books review
Book Chase review
BookPage review
Bookreporter review
Christian Science Monitor review
Entertainment Weekly review
Fantasy Book Critic review
New York Times review
The Oregonian review
San Francisco Chronicle review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review
USA Today review

The Atlantic features short fiction by the author
Brightcove video interview with the author
Five Chapters features short fiction by the author
Page 99 test of the novel
Ploughshares features short fiction by the author interview with the author
Wall Street Journal interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)