I’d always assumed Peyton Place was a salacious novel. It’s not. Sex figures in the plot, but the novel’s not about gratuitous sex.
The story is set just before World War II in a small New England town with all the usual small-town characteristics, notably gossip, grudges, and inbreeding.
There is the usual cast of characters: the dedicated doctor, the cynical newspaper editor, the bullying industrialist, the spinster school teacher, the poor-but-deserving young person.
The central event of the novel is Lucas Clark’s rape of his stepdaughter, Selena. Everyone else in Peyton Place gets tangled in the events that follow.
The novel might not have caused any raised eyebrows if it had been set in the South. We don’t associate slum lords, tar paper shacks, and shantytowns with Connecticut villages. The idea that poor white trash like Clark and his drunken pals live in rural towns graced by pristine, white church steeples is unsettling, almost obscene.
Author Grace Metalious writes about the entire town but fails to make readers care about any of its residents. There’s enough story to make a TV mini-series, but not enough character development for an enduring novel.Peyton Place By Grade Metalious Simon & Schuster, 1956 372 pages #2 on the 1957 bestseller list