When Grace Metalious's debut novel about the dark underside of a small, respectable New England town was published in 1956, it quickly soared to the top of the bestseller lists. A landmark in twentieth-century American popular culture, Peyton Place spawned a successful feature film and a long-running television series-the first prime-time soap opera.
Contemporary readers of Peyton Place will be captivated by its vivid characters, earthy prose, and shocking incidents. Through her riveting, uninhibited narrative, Metalious skillfully exposes the intricate social anatomy of a small community, examining the lives of its people -- their passions and vices, their ambitions and defeats, their passivity or violence, their secret hopes and kindnesses, their cohesiveness and rigidity, their struggles, and often their courage.
This new paperback edition of Peyton Place features an insightful introduction by Ardis Cameron that thoroughly examines the novel's treatment of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and power, and considers the book's influential place in American and New England literary history.
Let's set the scene...
Rory has spent the afternoon with her grandfather at "the club", looking to learn golf to satisfy her physical fitness requirement for the year. This is the first time Rory and Richard have really had time to bond and at first it's a teensy bit awkward. Richard doesn't know what to say to a teenage girl... because he hasn't yet learned that Rory is anything but an average teenager. Richard is pleasantly surprised to find that his granddaughter is bright, caring and quick and sits down to enjoy a typical country club lunch with her.
They are discussing the scandalous things they learned about Richard's fellow club members while "taking a steam".
Rory: That committee of yours is not looking at people as much as you think.
Richard: Why would they? From what you've told me they're all involved in one nefarious activity after another.
Rory: It's a conspiracy.
Richard: It's Peyton Place. Is there more?
Rory: Can you handle it?
Richard: I'll steel myself.
For the most part, I skip the introductions of books. Well, except for Stephen King books... I would enjoy that man's re-writing of the Magna Carta. However, I am so glad I didn't breeze past the introduction forPeyton Place. It provided insight into the social climate during the time of the book's publication that enhanced my experience of Grace Metalious' characters. Essentially, at the time of it's release, Peyton Place was something akin to reading the National Enquirer and calling it literature. People actively hid the fact that they had been sucked into the story of a small town and the underground current of intrigue, scandal and sin that runs through it. To someone in 2012, Peyton Place seemed like a powerful, moving, well-written social commentary on small town life. To someone in 1956, it was complete and utter trash.
The dirty laundry of a seemingly postcard-perfect town will always be excellent fodder for the next salacious novel. Although Stars Hollow is perfect (PERFECT, I tell you!), most small towns have the kind of skeletons in their closets that they would rather die than have them exposed to the public. It is simply the sheer nature of knowing all of your neighbors. You can't escape from any mistakes (real or perceived) if nosy Mrs. Crenshaw next door catches wind of it.
One of the great lessons from any book is that to be a strong, moral person, one needs to be flexible with his/her definition of what is "right". Gray is the new black when it comes to morality. The small town mindset (especially throughout the late 30's/early 40's as this story took place) tends to be that good is good and bad is bad. Period. End of sentence. Doc Swain, the kindly white-haired doctor of Peyton Place, is the character that proves that social norms don't always define the morally acceptable path. And even though he knew it would change his life forever, he did what he needed to do to ensure an innocent was spared... while the townsfolk argued that as long as you pay your bills and mind your business, you're a-okay in their books. Although they were controversial, his actions were saintly... he sacrificed his own closely-held beliefs to better a fellow human being in need.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
Babette Dell would love a book like Peyton Place. As a proud member of "Hello! Magazine", Babette knows the dish on all the Stars Hollow residents. But Babette is also kind-hearted and generous. Although she would love the scandal that runs rampant throughout Peyton Place, she would also feel for Selena Cross, Doc Swain and the other lost souls biding their time within the town limits.