Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

Peyton Place

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Peyton Place could have been a classic. Metalious certainly is a good storyteller, excelling in plot, character development, and descriptions of small town America back in the 1930s. When the book was first published in 1956 the plot was scandalous; pregnancy out of wedlock, incest, murder, suicide, rape, big business men controlling every significant thing that happens in the town, controversy over who is better- Protestants or Catholics- and prejudice against anyone other than white caucasians… including minorities like Greeks and Italians. Most of the citizens of Peyton Place had never even seen a black person.

Peyton Place consists of a typical American small town center with commercial and retail buildings and the homes of working class people. One side boasts a half dozen mansions owned by the wealthiest men in town surrounded by lovely homes and on the other side of town are tar-roofed shacks where the residents pretty much kept to themselves.

The story takes place in a 6 year period of time and rotates around various characters; young and old, rich and poor, evil and good, happy and miserable… you name it. Peyton Place has it all. In fact, my single complaint about the book is simply too much drama… far too many disasters and sensationalized story lines occur in this 373 page book. Perhaps if it had been a 700 page saga covering a full decade or so, all the drama would have been justifiable. But it was just too much, too fast. There was so much evil, horror, and tragedy in this small New England town that at times I felt like Peyton Place should have been called Derry- as in Stephen’s Kings novel IT- that takes place in Derry, Maine. Not that any of the events of Peyton Place are “supernatural” or “unrealistic”… it’s just excessive tragedy. On top of all the human character flaws, during this period of time Peyton Place also suffers a wicked fire along with several catastrophic accidents that continuously threaten the entire community.

And while all this drama is happening, everyone in town is gossiping… from casual idle talk to vicious rumor mongering. The old men sit around in a circle at the local general store and go over minute details of everyone’s lives, they speculate what will happen next, and spread the word. If something happens in the morning, by sunset the entire town knows it. No cyber world needed… the town folk make sure of that. There is no hiding from prying eyes in Peyton Place.

The book was so well received in the 1950s that it was made into a weekly TV drama series that ran 5 years and won several Emmy Awards.

Rated 4 Stars September 21, 2016

All contents © 2016 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.

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