Peyton Place is a fictional small town in northern New England whose residents thrive on gossip, harbour secrets and consider anyone without a generational history in the town to be an outsider. Metalious explores life, death and religion through the eyes of the citizens of Peyton Place and seamlessly moves from the differing points of view of men, women and children.
Peyton Place is a little like a soap opera, but Metalious brings depth and richness by providing intricate details of the town and its inhabitants. She showcases the traits of her characters, some of whom are sympathetic, but many of whom are vile, manipulative, self-centred or abusive.
Originally published in 1956, Peyton Place still has an impact with its themes of alcoholism, madness, paedophilia, murder and unwanted pregnancy, many of which were taboos of the time but still resonate today. Together with the general angst of teens and keeping secrets, she also portrays a distinct division in class. Interestingly, there are no African American or indigenous characters in Peyton Place (with the exception of the town’s namesake) and the town predominantly comprises white people. The impact of World War II is also underplayed by Metalious, considering the book spans this turbulent time in history. In writing of strong female characters, career women, single mothers and ambitious girls Metalious displays subtle feminist critiques, especially in contrast to other, less endearing characters who epitomise the stereotypes of mid twentieth century mothers and housewives.
Taking into consideration the era in which the novel was written and overlooking some of the generational attributes, I delighted in Peyton Place and was keen to follow its characters through the 1930’s and 1940’s.