Peyton Place by Grace Metalious – two 1956 reviews

Peyton Place (1956) by Grace Metalious 1956

When Peyton Place by Grace Metalious was published in 1956, reviewers all over the country found the book scandalous yet hard to resist. The book was vilified in some quarters and banned in others, but that didn’t stop Americans from buying it in droves.

The term “Peyton Place” has become synonymous with places and situations that are rife with scandal. Presented here are two typical reviews that appeared when the book was first published.

A blockbuster bestseller, it took hold of the public imagination. The fine yet somewhat sanitized film that was brought out following year (1957) cemented Peyton Place’s spot in the cultural conversation.

The bland TV series (starring Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal) that ran in the 1960s altered the premise to the point where it obliterated the book’s literary merit.

That’s really a shame, but fortunately, the book has been re-evaluated by scholars and contemporary cultural critics. “The Forgotten Legacy of Grace Metalious and Peyton Place” is an excellent place to begin.

Reviewers typically focused on the more scandalous and shocking aspects of the book, as you’ll read in the two 1956 reviews following.

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Grace metalious

Learn more about Grace Metalious
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A curious concoction of a first novel

From the original review by W.G. Rogers (AP) of Peyton Place by Grace Metalious in The Ogden Standard-Examiner, September 24, 1956:

Constance McKenzie with her illegitimate daughter Allison; Kenny, who drinks; his wife Ginny runs with other men; Lucas, who drinks and with violence abuses his teenage stepdaughter Selena; Rodney, whose father buys off Betty; the man who sets his girl to marry the rich, dying doctor so she would make him rich; the man who gives the woman he loves a blow in the teeth before he makes love — these are the characters in this curious concoction of a first novel.

Suicide, rape, abortion, murder, deceit, treachery, lechery; a spate of four-letter words; a lot of “ain’t,” dunno,” and “gonna”; spitting and snarling men and women, boys and girls, who are reduced to shrieking at one another “Slut!” “Pimp!” “Chippy!” and “Whore!” — all this, too, is Peyton Place.

To be sure there is solid gold Doc Swain, the true blue editor Seth. Otherwise there never was an author so generous with vulgarities and indecencies, with the worms crawl in the worms crawl out, with the slimy things found when a stone is turned over.

This is the book in the news, particularly the New England news, because Mrs. Metalious’s husband has suddenly lost his job his school principal in their town of Gilmanton, NH, and because other Gilmantonians claim they find themselves reflected in these characters — though how they can admit it I don’t understand.

Since Mrs. Metalious sees her community in this a lurid light, she has the inalienable right to say so. I have the inalienable right to find it all incredible, and it’s right I hereby emphatically exercise.

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peyton place by grace metalious

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This is the book all the fuss is about

From the original review by Luise Putcamp, Jr., in the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, October 7, 1956: 

The author lives with her husband and three kids in a little new England town. She looks like any other housewife and blue jeans and a ponytail. But her book about a little New England town has some of the most explicit sex scenes since Memoirs of Hecate County, the Edmund Wilson book that was banned 10 years ago.

Won’t go wrong: It looks as if no writer will ever go wrong in stirring up the souls of a “typical” small townspeople. City people read these books and say: “you can’t tell me all that stuff goes on in a small town.” But the people in the small towns know better.

People in patterns: It’s true Mrs. Metalious has some stock characters, to the extent that people in novels follow patterns just like real people do. There’s the boy tied to his mother’s apron strings … the mysterious old maid whose father quashed her only love affair … the rich young slob and his indulgent daddy … the good doctor and the dedicated school teacher.

Main characters: Allison McKenzie, through whose eyes you see Peyton Place. Allison’s most treasured possession is a picture of her dead father. She doesn’t know at first that  her father wasn’t married to her mother.

Allison’s best friend is beautiful Salina Cross. Selena lives in Shacktown where she fights off her drunken stepfather, without success.

Allison’s new English teacher, Tomas Makris, a massive Greek from out of town. Makris doesn’t kowtow to Peyton Place mores. But he follows a strong, offbeat moral code of his own, which rather violently includes Alison’s mother.

Peyton Place is dotted with daring passages like a fruitcake with maraschino cherries. It’s no wonder one New York magazine editor said it was the most shocking book he’d ever read. It’s going to be this season’s book to be passed around with certain pages marked for quick and easy finding.

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Peyton place 1957 film
Film version of Peyton Place (1957)
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More about Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

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