Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
Most people have heard the phrase "It's like a modern day Peyton Place"--meaning a small town rocked by scandal, sex, steamy secrets and saucy sirens.... It's actually a pretty sad development in my eyes because while the book was definitely scandalous for it's time, it is also well written indictment about small time living, the gap between the younger and older generations and the hypocrisy of "keeping up with the Jones".
The story itself it is simple--a story about a small town in deep in New England where church and family are as important as status and money. It follows the painful maturing of a handful of teens in the town; sweet Allison Mackenzie, poor but beautiful Selena Cross, wealthy and spoiled Rodney Harrington, overly sheltered Norman Page and ambitious Betty Anderson. It also ties itself in the secrets of the town filled with sexual longing-both of the female kind and the incestial kind, murder and classicist segregation, the extra martial and the overly insular pressures of a small town life.
But nothing as shocking as this cause REALLY?
But what makes the story and Metalious' work so amazing is that while the plot can be considered potboiler material she writes with a solid, strong and sensitive hand--her prose is thick and beautiful, filled with the type of pastoral imagery paired up with a solid understanding of what makes real people tick. You feel for the characters-root for them despite all odds and take on the righteous anger that comes once the full extent of the plot is revealed. Because at the end of the day the book is not truly about the secrets at stake but instead is about the cost of polite society, of neighborly ignorance and the questioning by the youth of these practices. The book was published in 1956 and you can see how this along with a handful of other projects started the idea of the youth movement and led to the counter culture's rise in the 1960s--teens asking why are things this way.
And while Grace Metalious wrote a handful of other books--nothing quite captures the same rush of shock, hope and intrigue as Peyton Place. It lead to a long running prime time soap which introduced us to Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal (You win some/you lose some), a solid film even if they had to dial back more of the shocking elements and a truly terrible sequel. One of the great tragedies of her career, when Metalious sold the film rights for the book she also sold the movie studio the rights to make a sequel. Because of this development, she was forced to quickly write "Return To Peyton Place" so that the studio couldn't make up any story they wanted for the sequel--and you can tell that she rushed to create a solid new story which doesn't quite hold up but has moments of genius when it comes to the fallout for some of the major female characters.
I have always believed it is easy to write a story filled with scandalous people--it is much harder to write a scandalous story happening to good, imperfect and fully rounded people. Metalious does this so perfectly that it is easy to forget and not see the nuance of her writing. A truly special book