I first read “Peyton Place” when it was still considered hot stuff and just re-read the book to see how it had held up. Nobody would read it today just for the sexual frankness, when any R-rated movie or bestselling novel can use much more graphic language. But I enjoyed the book; it may not be great literature but it was a good read and not mere trash. Although the book was banned in many places in the Fifties, the kind of everyday profanity Peyton Place’s citizens use struck me as pretty genuine.
The book runs from about 1937 to 1944. The central character is Allison McKenzie, but there are any number of characters whose consciousness the author easily slips into: Allison’s emotionally distant mother Constance, the new school superintendent Tom Makris, the town doctor Matt Swain, Allison’s poverty-stricken friend Selena Cross, dedicated teacher Elsie Thornton and many others. I think it’s one of the virtues of this book that Metalious creates so many believable characters, both male and female, with such apparent ease and economy.
Peyton Place the town is a major character in the book, and everyone lives in fear of it, because it demands the appearance of perfection from all its citizens and thus condones hypocrisy and condemns human frailty. But Peyton Place isn’t unique; it’s a microcosm of a sexually repressive society. If someone describes your office as “a regular ‘Peyton Place’,” you can bet that harassment follows in the path of the hijinks. Big city or small town, there’s a little “Peyton Place” in us all, even in these more liberated times.
I would recommend that readers save the introduction to the novel until after they have read it because it gives too much of the plot away.
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The clear, eloquent writing of Metalious immediately seized my attention. The steady, powerful development of characters aroused my interests and kept me eagerly anticipating their experiences. The damnation of this literary jewel in 1956 provides excellent insight to the era. Although much has changed since 1956; the scandals, struggles and experiences depicted in the novel seem to have remained the same. I read this book thinking that there would be vast differences in what would have constituted a scandal then versus now. What I learned is that people’s behavior hasn’t changed much at all but our reactions have become more muted, and our tolerance greater. Peyton Place is a depiction of life. Then and now. Change the publication date and the characters, and experiences are as true now as they were then. Mitalious managed to capture the essence of life conflict and struggle in a manner that is timeless and continuous. I’ll read this book again in 20 years and I expect that it will still provide a realistic view of life experiences and behavior. This novel is a must in everyone’s library!
When I first read Peyton Place upon its publication in 1956 this book was considered highly immoral and downright trashy. What kind of woman must this Grace Metalious be to pen such a book? Sinful, sinful was the common consensus. It is a pity that Metalious did not live to see its reprinting. Reading it now from the vantage point of almost 2000, one is shown the underbelly of a small New England town, with all its conflicts and crosscurrents. The story is told simply, with clarity and truth. Shining through is a deep compassion for the weaknesses and failings of humankind. Living in such a town as Peyton Place, the author knew what she was writing about and it shows. Read this book again if you read it before. First time readers, see how simple honesty, skillfully portrayed in the stories of small town life spun here, makes for an exceptionally well written book even in 1999!
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