Monday, August 25, 2014

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious


Scandalous!!

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? 

9 comments:

  1. I read Peyton Place several years ago with an online group and loved it, though it was much tamer than I was expecting! Right now I'm reading An American Tragedy and am enjoying it very much. It's extremely long and I'm only 1/3 through, but it's an interesting look at small town life and social customs of the early 20th century in upstate NY. The last third may be courtroom drama... possibly not what you're looking for.

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    1. I've read An American Tragedy and I really liked the first 2/3 -- I found the last 1/3 to be kind of preachy and repetitive. I still want to read Sister Carrie, though.

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  2. I was a freshman in high school and everybody was talking about Peyton Place at lunch break in the cafeteria. Unfortunately my mother forbad me to watch on ABC 0930 hr PM Thursday nights. Well,mother could not hold the tide back and eventually capitulated, surrendered. Peyton Place was THE show to watch. I don't remember all the details and should read the book myself. Small town USA is a great subject to read about. I read Main Street ( liked), Rabbit, Run [review on my blog] ( liked) and Appointment in Samarra ( so-so, although it is considered a classic).

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    1. I read Rabbit, Run years ago, for an American History class in college, but I don't remember a thing about it, so I should reread it! I'll definitely look for your review. I really want to read Main Street and maybe Winesburg, Ohio.

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  3. Ahahahaha, "sordid Gilmore Girls" is my favorite pitch for Peyton Place ever. This has always sounded like the perfect book for a camping trip -- for reasons obscure to me, I always bring Scandalous books from the past on camping trips. I read Forever Amber on the last one. It was good. Pretty scandalous.

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    1. I think Peyton Place would be a perfect vacation read! I actually had it in my bag on a recent trip to California, but I was desperately trying to finish Nana, which is another notoriously scandalous novel, but totally different -- I really wish I'd been reading Peyton Place instead.

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  4. I watched Peyton Place (not the original one, but the remake) when I was in junior high (just the fact that I'm calling it junior high shows how old I am :) ) and I remember Allison!

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  5. I remember wolfing down both Peyton Place and The Group at about the same time so I always associate them together. Both are compelling peeks behind the lace curtains, so to speak. Main Street is very good as I recall. I loved it so much, I read Babbitt soon after. But Babbitt didn’t entertain me as much as Main Street. I have heard good things about Winesburg, Ohio and want to get to that one of these days, not the least because it is only the Modern Library’s 100 best 20ths century list.

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  6. I think Peyton Place is a vastly under-rated book. I thought much of the writing and characterization was terrific. I especially loved the guys who stayed drunk in the basement for weeks.

    I suggest Winesburg Ohio by Sherwood Anderson for another look at small town America. And, this is a bit out on a limb, but Ray Bradbury is great with small town America. His book Something Wicked This Way Comes is very good. The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry is also excellent.

    Gee, I read a lot of small town fiction for a city boy.

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