Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Peyton Place

Peyton Place.


It arrived in the mail.  

This isn't my usual kind of reading, but I saw Virago had published it and thought I'd give it a whirl.

Okay, I'm supposed to be setting up my new computer.  But I'm a little busy right now.  You see, Elsie Thornton, the radical teacher, is tired and feels she is fighting "a losing battle with ignorance"; the men at Seth Buswell's are playing poker and arguing about the tar-paper shacks outside of town and zoning laws; Allison Mackenzie, age 12, goes to pick up her best friend and sees through the window Selena's drunken stepfather beating her; and Kenny Stearns, the town handyman, holds a month-long drinking party in his basement.  The ambulance just arrived...

Peyton Place.  It's your life. It's my life.  It's the fifties. It's the two thousands.   American small towns burble and babble with secrets.

Peyton Place was a little before my time.  But I do remember watching  it on TV with my mom in the '60s and identifying with Allison Mackenzie, who was romantic, imaginative, and a bit of an outsider.  My mom thought Dorothy Malone was beautiful and didn't like Allison/Mia Farrow's hair at all.  It was long and straight, the look girls ironed for in the '60s.

And the town looked familiar.  

It doesn't actually matter where you live, because small towns all over look like this: 

"In front of the courthouse, a large white stone building with a verdigris-colored dome, a few old men lounged on the wooden benches which seem to be part of every municipal building in America's small towns....
"Maple Street, which bisected Elm at a point halfway through the business section, was a wide, tree-shaded avenue which ran north and south from one end of town to the other." 

Grace Metalious
Grace Metalious' Peyton Place was a publishing phenomenon in 1956.  It outsold Gone with the Wind and God's Little Acre.  It was banned by some libraries.  By the end of 1956, according to Ardis Cameron, author of the introduction to the the Northeastern University Press edition,  one in 29 Americans had bought it.

I'll have to have a talk with my mother.  Did she read it?  Or just see the movie with Lana Turner?

It's not terribly well-written.  Honestly?  I'd rather read Giant than Peyton Place.  But it has a certain trashy fascination.  And some of it is good.  If you like books like Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls and Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, you might like this. 

Emily Toth, author of Inside Peyton Place:  The Life of Grace Metalious, was quoted as saying, "I was living in the Midwest during the 1950s and I can tell you it was boring.  Elvis Presley and Peyton Place were the only two things in that decade that gave you hope there was something going on out there." 

I can well believe it.

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