Peyton Place is a classic soap opera set in an uptight New England town. It’s closely tied to Valley of the Dolls in my mind – both were groundbreaking, trashy novels about the scandalous realities of a community. This book infuriated New England because one of their own, Metalious, born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire, dared to write about the imperfections and scandals brewing beneath New England’s perfect surface. This book has become an enduring part of pop culture through both film and television adaptations.
There has long been speculation about how true this book actually is. There are many similarities between Metalious and the protagonist Allison – both grow up in New England, both end up writing about their pasts, etc. All I know is, when the screenwriter for the movie asked Metalious if the book was based on her own life, she asked him to repeat the question. And when he did, she threw her drink at him. I’m going to take that as a definitive no.
I can’t put my finger on what’s so satisfying about this book. There’s something stereotypically “New England” about it – characters are supposed to hide their ambition, never flaunt what they’ve earned, and lead a simple, moral life. It’s frustrating, because almost all of the tragedies could have been avoided if someone did something. Did anything. But the characters staunchly refuse to interfere in each others lives, preferring to whisper behind each others backs. And by refusing to meddle – they are refusing to save each other.