Grace Metalious’ “Peyton Place”

The clerk at B&N was about my age. Her eyes bulged behind her glasses when I asked if the store had a copy of this book. The computer said it did, so she took me on a walking tour trying to find it.

“I haven’t heard anyone mention that title in forty years.”

I wondered if the clerk’s mom had kept a copy hidden in her nightstand as mine did back in the mid-1950s when this bombshell book came out. Maybe she too snuck a look for the dirty parts.

The clerk didn’t find the book, which I ordered later from Amazon. She was polite and never asked why the hell I would want such a thing.  You know, being a middle-aged man and all.  I’m not sure I had an answer on the ready. I guess I could say that the book stands in time as a period piece and as a breakthrough in women’s freedom to express, and so forth. Or I could have said I’m interested in all fiction and for some reason I’m in the mood to read some soapy pulpy stuff. Presented in an accomplished novelistic way, of course. Yeah. I wanted to see how the best of breed managed it.

Keeping up with the cast of characters made it a slow read at first. The writing is solid and unpretentious, functional. I never found it sappy like a lot of that era’s fiction. Even so, the episodes tend to stretch the obvious and telegraph themselves. I began to skim in the last one-third. The characters perpetrate about every human foible you can think of. The dirty parts are far from dirty anymore; they have a quaint memorableness to them.

The author believed in her novel enough to risk becoming a pariah and eventually she ruined her liver over it. I defer to the more conscientiously written reviews out there and especially to the Vanity Fair piece on Grace Metalious, a pretty interesting read.

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