Posted on | July 13, 2010 | 10 Comments
Oh, it’s been absolutely ages since I’ve read a 470+ page book in a day, but boy, this one was absolutely worth it. It’s been labeled “wicked”, “sordid” and even “cheap”. I half thought of The O.C. as I was reading it, albeit set in the late 1930s, and not the twenty-first century.
I’ve heard of Peyton Place in passing before, but never realised it was a book until quite recently, when everyone in the blogging world seems to be reading it. I wasn’t actually planning on reading it, as such, but when I stumbled upon it in the library, I figured I might as well see what it’s all about. I wasn’t disappointed.
Set in a small fictional town (Peyton Place) in New England, just before the second World War, this book focuses on the hypocrisy and the downright gossipy nature of the inhabitants of this small town, where a good story includes one of three: a suicide, a murder, and an unmarried girl getting pregnant. Needless to say, in this book, all three events occur!
It’s a book that’s quite hard to write about, simply because of the plethora of characters that were introduced and developed: some you couldn’t help but hating, and some you just couldn’t stop rooting for. It’s commendable, how well Metalious (a pseudonym) has developed all the characters, though, considering there are well over fifteen characters whose life the book follows. Not once did I get confused as to which character she was talking about, nor where they stood on various issues. For me, the two main characters were two teenage girls, coming from totally different worlds : Allison, who lived with her successful mother after her father had passed away; and Selena, who lived with her parents and siblings in a shack. The latter’s father was an alcoholic, and made life miserable for the rest of the family. Allison carried her own burdens – she wasn’t aware that she was an illegitimate child (a fact that haunted her mother continuously), and she had some very set, almost naive, ideas about how her life would turn out: she wasn’t going to fall in love, but was going to live a life full of affairs.
In terms of the adults, again, there were two characters who stood out more than the others, as they were almost too good to be true. Doctor Swain and the new Greek principal of the school, Tomas Makris. Both want to do the right thing – even if, at times, the so-called “right thing” is illegal or frowned upon.
Other characters include a batty old spinster with a cat (quite stereotypical, don’t you think?), the village handyman who is also an alcoholic, the son of the richest man in town who’s an out and out hedonist, and the poor teenager whose mother is unhealthily possessive, and insists on “giving him an enema and putting him to sleep.”
As already mentioned, in Peyton Place, everyone knows everyone, and everyone talks. That’s the one thing that’s been a constant at the little town.
“The public loves to create a hero….Sometimes I think they do it for the sheer joy of knocking him down from the highest peak. Like a child who builds a house of blocks and then destroys it with one vicious kick.”
Yet, the writing is wonderful: extremely easy to read, but full of wonderful metaphors and analogies. The opening line itself is beautiful,
Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.”
and then, a couple of pages later:
Those grown old, who have had the youth bled from them by the jagged edged winds of winter, know sorrowfully that Indian summer is a sham to be met with hard-eyed cynicism. But the young wait anxiously, scanning the chill autumn skies for a sign of her coming. And sometimes the old, against all the warnings of better judgment, wait with the young and hopeful, their tired, inner eyes turned heavenward to seek the first traces of a false softening.
Agreed, it’s not the most “literary” book out there, but it really is an enjoyable read. Being from a society prone to gossip and talking, I could only empathise with the characters, although again, being a part of society means I had to judge some of them as well.