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Peyton Place and Return to Peyton Place

Grace Metalious

Average Review Rating Average Rating 4/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Random House Value Publications

Published : 1956, 2000

Copyright : Grace Metalious 1956, 2000

ISBN-10 : HB 0-517-20477-0
ISBN-13 : HB 978-0-517-20477-1

Publisher's Write-Up

Two best-selling and controversial novels - Peyton Place and Return to Peyton Place - appear in an omnibus edition that captures the sins and scandals, passions and jealousies, of a small New England town.

Once denounced as "wicked" "cheap" and "moral filth", Peyton Place sold millions of copies worldwide. As the curtains twitched in the mythical New England town of Peyton Place, this soapy story exposed the dirty secrets of 1950s small-town America: incest, adultery, repression and lust.

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Alex (070805) Rating (4/10)

Review by Alex
Rating 4/10
These two novels describe life in a small town in America’s New England states during the 1930’s and 40’s. While Peyton Place concentrates on the people of the town, looking behind the surface of their mostly Puritan lives in an idyllic environment, its sequel deals with the publication of a book about Peyton Place and its people’s reactions to it.

The people of Peyton Place are well-described stereotypes, and the town they inhabit is a stereotypical idyllic setting. The author herself lived in and suffered from a place like this, and she doesn’t do anything to hide the pleasure she finds in destroying the image of a perfectly clean, tidy and pure place. Instead she de-constructs all of the shiny surface and shows the reader an underlying assembly of all sins and failings you can possibly think of: rape, incest, manipulation, intrigues, obscenity, murder, abortion, adultery, addiction, hate, suicide, madness...

The story mainly follows two girls from different social backgrounds from the age of 13 to their early twenties: Selena Cross, the step-daughter of a poor shack owner, and Allison MacKenzie, daughter of widowed shop owner Constanze MacKenzie. As Selena’s life is nearly destroyed by the presence of her violent step-father, Allison defines herself through the longing for an absent and overly worshipped father figure. Around these two girls a tableau of different life stories and different characters unfolds and they all seem to intermingle and cross each other for the most likely and unlikely reasons. The town itself, Peyton Place, plays a crucial role. It seems to be the powerful natural force that holds the sometimes fatal social construct together. Sometimes it is a perfect mirror of the moods and actions of its inhabitants, allowing deadly fires or storms to roam its streets. Sometimes however it contradicts a bitter reality by showing off its pretty polished surface. To the reader it often seems to be a huge clinical trial that tests human behaviour in a small town environment.

Though the writing is straightforward, there is not much left for imagination and interpretation, and although the book is a big assembly of stereotypes, I enjoyed the read. The book’s charm lies in its trashiness and the predictability of its characters and plots, and Grace Metalious stays truthfully with her project of telling the true story of small town-America. It allows a look into the American state of mind of the 1950’s when the book was written, published and widely scandalized due to its explicit sex scenes – experienced by a woman living in and struggling with this superficial and self-deceiving society. Though the story plays in the 1930’s/40’s it is truly a 1950’s atmosphere, and while reading I could hear Rock’n Roll approaching slowly around the corner.

What I found charming and entertaining in the first book unfortunately fails completely in the second, Return to Peyton Place. Grace Metalious identifies herself one to one with her character Allison MacKenzie, now in her 20’s and trying a life as a writer in New York. After some failures in both her work and love life she returns to Peyton Place, pens a book about this small town and its people, learns to live with their hostile reactions, reconciles with her estranged mother, goes to Hollywood to work on the film script, finds and loses love. At the end of the book Allison receives the visit of a much adored Hollywood actress in Peyton Place who makes a strange appearance in the living room of Allison’s mother and explains the meaning of life to all of them.

Metalious makes some effort to tell a structured story but for me she fails here. Around Allison’s plot the plots of the town people continue rather independently and hardly interwoven, linked tonly in their literary failing. The stereotypes that functioned so well as archetypes for the human condition in the first book have become exaggerations and look more like bad caricatures. Take Selena Cross e.g.: After rape, abortion and a murder trial she seems to have to go through a similar story again, and this time its moral and essence are being hammered into the reader’s brain by needless parallels and explanations. These continue throughout the second book, and Metalious’ constant reminders of what happened merely five pages earlier and what it actually means becomes more and more annoying. The authoress herself seems to need these reminders though (or maybe a more cautious publisher?), as characters suddenly and without reason change names throughout the book and it stays a complete mystery why…..

I picked Peyton Place because I was interested in the society and the atmosphere of America in the 1950’s – an era I’ve always found fascinating - and I wanted to know why this book was such a huge scandal at the time it was published. I was well entertained and found answers to my initial questions because Grace Metalious stuck to her project and managed to create a maybe rather trashy but nevertheless harmonious piece of literature. She perfectly manages to integrate her own attitude towards the society she describes.

With the sequel she leaves this path and becomes entangled in the attempt of coping with her own biography as a writer and continuing a story that already had found an open but nevertheless adequate end with the first book. I must admit that I only finished it because I felt I had to. That’s why I give only 4/10.

If you like this kind of thing the first one is a good entertaining read. Forget about the sequel though unless you’re interested in the psychological/pathological connection of a writer and his or her work…

One should perhaps add that Peyton Place was a huge commercial success. It was made into a feature film and was used as the basis for a soap opera. Grace Metalious was pressed to do the sequel by her publisher, by the need to earn money for her family, by the urge she felt to explain herself to the society she lived in. She was suffering from this society and died at the age of only 34, an alcoholic and torn between her life as housewife and mother in a small town, aspiring and talented writer and literary celebrity.
Her topic still seems to work nowadays seeing the success of American TV-series such as “Desperate Housewives”.

Alex ( 7th August 2005)

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