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Every place has a bit of "Peyton Place"
on February 28, 2000
I first read "Peyton Place" when it was still considered hot stuff and just re-read the book to see how it had held up. Nobody would read it today just for the sexual frankness, when any R-rated movie or bestselling novel can use much more graphic language. But I enjoyed the book; it may not be great literature but it was a good read and not mere trash. Although the book was banned in many places in the Fifties, the kind of everyday profanity Peyton Place's citizens use struck me as pretty genuine.
The book runs from about 1937 to 1944. The central character is Allison McKenzie, but there are any number of characters whose consciousness the author easily slips into: Allison's emotionally distant mother Constance, the new school superintendent Tom Makris, the town doctor Matt Swain, Allison's poverty-stricken friend Selena Cross, dedicated teacher Elsie Thornton and many others. I think it's one of the virtues of this book that Metalious creates so many believable characters, both male and female, with such apparent ease and economy.
Peyton Place the town is a major character in the book, and everyone lives in fear of it, because it demands the appearance of perfection from all its citizens and thus condones hypocrisy and condemns human frailty. But Peyton Place isn't unique; it's a microcosm of a sexually repressive society. If someone describes your office as "a regular 'Peyton Place'," you can bet that harassment follows in the path of the hijinks. Big city or small town, there's a little "Peyton Place" in us all, even in these more liberated times.
I would recommend that readers save the introduction to the novel until after they have read it because it gives too much of the plot away.