Flawed, but commendably ambitious and stuffed with ideas—many of them not well developed, but inspiring hope for a more...

THE MONSTERS OF TEMPLETON

Cooperstown, N.Y., and its most famous native son provide first-time novelist Groff with much of the grist for this sprawling tale of a young woman searching for her father.

In The Pioneers, James Fenimore Cooper rechristened his (and Groff’s) hometown as Templeton; she not only adopts the name, but grafts her protagonist onto the family tree of a character from the novel, Judge Marmaduke Temple. Grad student Willie Upton slinks back into Templeton in the summer of 2002 just as the corpse of a mysterious, 50-foot creature surfaces in Lake Glimmerglass. She’s had a disastrous affair with a married professor and isn’t sure she can go back to Stanford, Willie tells her feisty single mother. Vi, who always claimed not to know which member of her San Francisco commune knocked her up in 1973, has a surprise of her own. In truth, Willie’s father lives in Templeton and doesn’t even know he has a daughter. Vi won’t tell Willie his name, but (implausibly) drops a big hint. Like Vi, Willie’s dad is descended from Judge Temple, who apparently scattered illegitimate children across the 18th-century landscape. As Willie hunts through old documents for clues to her parentage, the voices of generations of Templeton residents mingle with those of such archetypal Cooper creations as Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook in a narrative that winds through 250 years of American history. The secrets uncovered include murder, arson, poisonous intra-family rivalries and the exploitation of slaves and Native Americans. The leviathan pulled out of the lake seems less of a monster than some of Templeton’s respectable founders. Willie and other contemporary citizens are far nicer; readers will be pleased when the likable heroine meets her father, reconciles with Vi and forms a tentative new relationship with a decent guy. But there seem to be two novels here, and they don’t fit together terribly well.

Flawed, but commendably ambitious and stuffed with ideas—many of them not well developed, but inspiring hope for a more disciplined second effort from this talented newcomer.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2225-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Voice/Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2007

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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Above-average formula fiction, making full display of the author’s strong suits: sense of place, compassion for characters...

TRUE COLORS

Female rivalry is again the main preoccupation of Hannah’s latest Pacific Northwest sob saga (Firefly Lane, 2008, etc.).

At Water’s Edge, the family seat overlooking Hood Canal, Vivi Ann, youngest and prettiest of the Grey sisters and a champion horsewoman, has persuaded embittered patriarch Henry to turn the tumbledown ranch into a Western-style equestrian arena. Eldest sister Winona, a respected lawyer in the nearby village of Oyster Shores, hires taciturn ranch hand Dallas Raintree, a half-Native American. Middle sister Aurora, stay-at-home mother of twins, languishes in a dull marriage. Winona, overweight since adolescence, envies Vivi, whose looks get her everything she wants, especially men. Indeed, Winona’s childhood crush Luke recently proposed to Vivi. Despite Aurora’s urging (her principal role is as sisterly referee), Winona won’t tell Vivi she loves Luke. Yearning for Dallas, Vivi stands up Luke to fall into bed with the enigmatic, tattooed cowboy. Winona snitches to Luke: engagement off. Vivi marries Dallas over Henry’s objections. The love-match triumphs, and Dallas, though scarred by child abuse, is an exemplary father to son Noah. One Christmas Eve, the town floozy is raped and murdered. An eyewitness and forensic evidence incriminate Dallas. Winona refuses to represent him, consigning him to the inept services of a public defender. After a guilty verdict, he’s sentenced to life without parole. A decade later, Winona has reached an uneasy truce with Vivi, who’s still pining for Dallas. Noah is a sullen teen, Aurora a brittle but resigned divorcée. Noah learns about the Seattle Innocence Project. Could modern DNA testing methods exonerate Dallas? Will Aunt Winona redeem herself by reopening the case? The outcome, while predictable, is achieved with more suspense and less sentimental histrionics than usual for Hannah.

Above-average formula fiction, making full display of the author’s strong suits: sense of place, compassion for characters and understanding of family dynamics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-36410-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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