Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reading New England: Peyton Place by Grace Metalious (1956)


I hope that all is going well with you. It's been a bit quiet here, mainly because of a reading slump, and with home remodeling, real life has gotten in the way, too. This past weekend with the blizzard, I had a great reason to get back to reading.

I'm participating in the Reading New England Challenge at Emerald City Book Review. For January, the task has been to read a book set in New Hampshire. My choice--the infamous novel, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious (1956).

The name of Peyton Place has become such a part of our vernacular. I've been curious to know about this scandalous story that became such a huge hit. In reading about the book and its publication, I was surprised to learn that there was a period when it was estimated that one in twenty nine people in the United States owned a copy of Peyton Place.

Peyton Place has something for everyone--the ironies of human nature, coming of age, sex, murder, incest, abortion, a dramatic trial, small town politics, secrets, and lies. I found some brilliant writing, but in exposing the underbelly of an idyllic New England town, there was a lot of extraneous material, too. The novel felt a bit like pulp fiction with its salaciousness, at times a first rate novel, and at times like it was trying a bit too hard. But I couldn't stop reading.

The most prominent story line features attractive career woman, Constance Mackenzie, who owns the local dress shop and has been raising her daughter, Allison. Constance has been living under the guise that she's a widow. She's terrified that the town will find out that Allison is the product of an affair with a rich man in New York City whom Constance never married. She also fears Allison's reaction when the time comes for Allison to learn the truth. 

Peyton Place is also Allison's story. Allison grows up feeling like a bit of an outcast. Some of the best scenes in the book are about Allison. An aspiring writer, she spends time alone and feels a connection to the beautiful countryside and woods around Peyton Place.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks stands the part of town with the shanty type dwellings where the mill workers live. Selena Cross, a classmate of Allison's, shares a one room shack with her mother, stepfather, and brother. Selena endures years of abuse from her violent, alcoholic step-father. She finds a way to put a stop to his actions once and for all which results in a sensational trial that divides the town and where secrets and lies are exposed.

The author of Peyton Place, Grace Metalious, lived an equally sensational life. She never conformed to what a housewife was supposed to be in the 1950s. She seldom did housework and dressed in dungarees and men's flannel shirts most of the time. She had a troubled marriage and was known to lock her children out of their house in order to devote more of her time to writing. Peyton Place brought Metalious fame and fortune as well as fleeting friends and lovers who only wanted her money. She could never handle her celebrity and drank heavily. Metalious died at age 39 from cirrhosis of the liver. Before she died, Metalious, on her deathbed, signed over what was left of her estate to her British lover. 

I'm glad I had a chance to read Peyton Place. The novel is full of interesting characters, especially the women, and the story has all kinds of twists and turns. I recommend this novel.


Grace Metalious (1924-1964)

10 comments:

  1. I read this back in pre-blogging days and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Must have been quite scandalous at the time.

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    1. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the book, too. Metalious was really effective at writing about her characters inside and out. At the end of the book, I felt like I knew those characters really well! And I loved her descriptions of the seasons in New Hampshire.

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  2. How very interesting, Monica! Thanks for providing all the background material. I've, of course, heard of Peyton Place and there was a movie, right? I've not seen it. What a sad life the author had. And I agree with JoAnn, it must have been so scandalous - kind of reminds me of the upheaval over the 50 Shades books and movie.

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    1. I remember seeing the Peyton Place film years ago on TCM. Now that I've read the book, I can say that the film was much more tame! Also, there were differences in the story line. Where the novel was more realistic, the film kind of sugar coated some of the story. I've never seen the tv show, but I've read that the television show of Peyton Place was very popular, too.

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  3. I'm glad this helped you get out of your reading slump! I've always heard this title as a byword for scandal and salaciousness but I've never read it, and now I'm really intrigued. Great choice for Reading New England!

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    1. Thanks, Lory! Peyton Place was a really fun read!

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  4. What a good choice for a New Hampshire read; I might have chosen this one myself if I knew that was the setting. I associate this book more with New York for some reason. I don't know why. But I'm adding it to my list. I think I'd like to read it this year. :)

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    1. Hello, Lark! :) As an adult, Allison Mackenzie does move to New York City to become a writer, and those scenes are kind of fun to see what her life is like there.

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  5. I hadn't heard about the Reading New England challenge before. But I try not to sign up for too many challenges because I lose track of them and usually fail, anyway. I'm going to have to read Peyton Place now, though, because you've talked me into it!

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