Sunday, January 23, 2011

Peyton Place - Book Review

One weekend in college I wanted to get away from all the stress and went to my spend time with my grandma. My grandfather had recently died and she was lonely. That Friday night we went to the video rental store to pick out a movie. My grandma called me over and pointed to a video on the shelf. Have you ever seen it? She whispered, her tone secretive and embarrassed. No, I hadn't. She went on. The movie had caused quite a stir when it was released in 1967. She hadn't seen it but she wanted to. I was game. It was rated PG, after all. How bad could it be?

We went back to my grandma's apartment and watched "The Graduate".

I felt that same guilty secretive feeling about reading Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. I even contemplated removing the jacket while I was reading it in the orthodontist's waiting room, at Jiffy Lube, and at the podiatrist's. But I didn't. It is 2011, after all.

Grace Metalious was a thirty-something house wife living in New Hampshire when she wrote and published her novel about a small town in New Hampshire in 1956. The novel sold over 60,000 copies in two weeks; rocketed to the New York Times Best Seller List where it would remain for over a year and shocked a nation. As in, really shocked everyone. It was banned in several states and countries.

Peyton Place dares to expose the secrets that people keep hidden behind the closed curtains and locked doors of their homes (or perhaps even more hidden behind the open curtains and unlocked doors, as one character in the novel believes). Broaching taboo subjects such as incest, spousal abuse, adultery, abortion, murder and suicide (pretty much covers everything), this book went well beyond the social norms of the 1950's.

I don't believe that "closet skeletons" are exclusive to small towns. But having grown up in a small town, I think it's simply more difficult to keep the skeleton in the closet. Everyone knows everyone. You see each other at the grocery store, church and school. And yet, even in a small town people keep their darkest secrets.

Metalious simply exposed some of these hideous secrets.

The novel follows the lives of two teen aged girls, one from the "shacks" and one from the right side of town, as they go through high school and into young adulthood during the late 1930's and into World War II.

Peyton Place inspired a new genre of literature and we are regularly bombarded with the tough and unpleasant themes discussed in this book, but I have to admit that I was still shocked by Peyton Place in 2011. Metalious was certainly not the first to write about sex, but she writes of sex in a base and carnal way, especially unique to a woman author.

I found the story interesting and several of the themes are universal and still relevant fifty some years later (I've made a list of topics to discuss with my former roommates who are also reading it this month). The plot is well formed. The characters are so believable you would think Metalious was writing from her own experience (perhaps she was). However, I still found the detailed sex scenes just too much--way too much.

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