By Sarah Bennett

Peyton Place

by Grace Metalious

Published by Julian Messner, Inc. (1956)

Peyton Place, which begat both a film and a long-running nighttime soap in the ‘50s and ‘60s, was written by a hard-drinking housewife named Grace Metalious. I read the book, not because of it’s reputation as a trashy masterpiece, but because I was living in New Hampshire at the time and felt obliged to.

Gilmanton’s High Street, circa 1910 — the only difference now is that the road is paved and there are probably four-wheelers in the driveways. (Credit: Image from Wikipedia, used with creative commons license)

The book is based on Gilmanton, New Hampshire, not far from where I was and where one of my closest friends grew up. Like many small towns in New Hampshire, Gilmanton hasn't changed much in the last hundred years — there’s still only one major intersection with a blinking yellow traffic light, gas station and library — and I thought I’d spent enough time there over the years to appreciate Peyton Place in that unique “Hey, I've been to that meeting hall!” sort of way. Of course, if I actually was from Gilmanton, I’d hate this book, since things have changed so little there that it burns the locals to this day. There are still people who remember Grace Metalious, and by remember her, I mean despise her dead guts.

That said, by today’s standards, the book is fairly tame. Like many bestselling beach reads before it, Peyton Place has never been accused of being well written, so not only is it not juicy, it’s also fairly overwritten and boring. Like too many books and films of that era, a rape scene is included that is supposed to be titillating/quasi-consensual (because the greater scandal would be having two unmarried adults have sex on purpose and enjoy it). That just makes what was once the “naughtiest” moment in the book fairly gross.

In fact, unless you are from Gilmanton or know anyone from there, you’ll find that all the controversy from this book has long expired and that the writing isn't good enough to sustain one’s interest. If you’re one of the few and one of the proud with connections to beautiful Gilmanton, New Hampshire, however, Peyton Place will still make your blood pressure rise a little — but due less to excitement than rage.