Grace Metalious blew the roof off the image of the quaint New England Town in her 1956 shocker Peyton Place. Ostensibly set in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but with more of a 1950s feel to it, Peyton Place is the story of three women: Constance McKenzie, a beautiful widow with a Deep Dark Secret; her 13-year old daughter Allison, a budding writer coming of age in a small town; and Allison's best friend, Selena Cross, a beautiful girl who is growing up in squalor on the wrong side of the tracks with her mother, half brother, and stepfather, the town's creepy drunk.
Peyton Place covers all the dirty secrets of small town life, including murder, suicide, child abuse, incest, illegitimacy, and abortion It was groundbreaking for its time, though it's probably pretty tame compared to Fifty Shades of Grey.
I'm a big fan of stories of life in small-town America, and this is like a really sordid version of Gilmore Girls, with much less witty repartee. There were lots of interesting and colorful side characters -- the upright and beloved town doctor, the uptight school teacher; the rich, unscrupulous mill owner and spoiled son; and the new principal who comes from the big city. There are a whole slew of characters from various generations, all with their own back story. Some times I did wish Metalious had included less characters and given the reader more about less people.
I found it to be quite the page turner -- I finished the entire book in a weekend, and I really enjoyed it. I did have trouble keeping some of the characters straight, particularly the colorful old-timers who sat around at the diner and played poker with the doctor and the town newspaper editor. Some of the threads were left unresolved; there's a whole plot thread about Allison's childhood sweetheart Norman and his creepy mother, who seems like an eerie precursor to Norman Bates, but we never really find out what happened to him; also, I didn't care for the ending, which seemed somewhat tacked on. I would love to read an entire book about Allison and what happened to her after the events in the book ended. There was a sequel, Return to Peyton Place, but I've read it isn't that good, so I may skip it and just imagine for myself how the character's lives would have continued.
Now I want to read more books about small-town American life -- Main Street by Sinclair Lewis has been on my to-read list for ever; also, I want to read some more mid-Century fiction. Another one on my to-read list is The Group by Mary McCarthy, which I've returned unread to the library three times at least!
Bloggers, which other books about small-town life do you recommend? Which banned books do you love? And has anyone ever seen the Peyton Place movie or TV adaptations?