The original Town with a Dark Secret
was a 1956 novel written by housewife Grace Metalious. It's hard to understate the nature of the book or the degree to which it scandalised
America, small towns, the people that lived in them, and more or less the whole genre of paperback fiction, which at the time was populated with happy stories about happy people, good times
and noodle salad
. That's The Fifties
for you. But Peyton Place
changed all this. Billed as The Novel That Shocked the Nation
(which it did, true enough) it concerns itself mainly with 'lifting the lid off a respectable New England town'. Metalious herself admits that it's about the skeletons people have in their closets and how they try to keep them there. Still, it was hugely successful in its day, spawning a sequel, a feature film and later a television series.
In terms of plot, the novel covers the overlapping lives of just about everyone
in the sleepy New England
town of Peyton Place and is set over a number of years. There's Allison MacKenzie, kinda-sorta the main character, who waltzes through life mostly dreamily, disdaining Peyton Place and its people and all the while dreaming of a better life elsewhere, anywhere; Allison's mom Constance, who went off to New York City
in her youth and got knocked up by a Big City Businessman and carried the shame with her the rest of her life; new principal Tomas Mak—er, Rossi, in whom Connie sees all the flaws and beauty of the father of her child; Seth Buswell & Matt Swain, local notables (publisher of the newspaper and the chief doctor at the hospital, respectively) who have their fingers firmly pressed on the pulse of the town; Leslie Harrington, who runs the town's Mill, and his son Rodney
—and Rodney's girlfriend Betty; and then there's Selena Cross
and her little brother Joey, and their stepdad, Lucas...
The novel was adapted into a 1957 film, and subsequently a Prime Time Soap
running on ABC
television from 1964-69.
Peyton Place contains examples of the following tropes:
- Author Avatar: Connie MacKenzie is Grace Metalious.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Allison is very well-spoken and (well, sorta) polite for a 14-year-old, but tends towards abrupt 180s if someone bores her or pisses her off. Cases in point: Nellie Cross (repeatedly), and Norman Page.
- Rodney Harrington's gal friday, Betty, is a more obvious version of this. To Rodney's face, no less.
- Dysfunction Junction: Where to start? Even the newspaper publisher and town doctor, each wealthy enough to not have a care in the world, are miserable.
- Gossipy Hens: Inverted: it's the men of the town, Seth Buswell and Matt Swain, who keep themselves in the know of Peyton Place.
- Momma's Boy: Norman Page, at least early in the book.
- Most Writers Are Male: Played with; the focus is on Allison's pursuit of this, but her, er, guy that she picnics with, Norman Page, merely wants to write poetry.
- No Communities Were Harmed: Grace Metalious based Peyton Place on several New Hampshire towns. Residents of the one in which she resided, Gilmanton, were particularly displeased by the novel's depiction and made Metalious and her family into social pariahs: her husband was fired from his job as a local school principal (and subsequently divorced her), their children were ostracized, they received hate mail and death threats, etc.
- Noodle Incident: The true story of Samuel Peyton is narrated second-hand, but you never find out the apparently really awful part(s).
- Popcultural Osmosis: In its day, the book was about as scandalous as scandalous can get. To be seen reading it was a pretty sure indictment of your moral hygiene or lack thereof. (For a frame of reference, the equally scandalous The Catcher in the Rye had only debuted five years before.) Nowadays its subject matter and the things it talks about are downright commonplace, but in the late fifties in Eagle Land? Whew boy...
- Put on a Bus: For a book with Loads and Loads of Characters, any of whom drop in and out of the narrative at will, this is bound to happen. Of note, Ted Carter, built up for mostly half the book as Mr Selena Cross, promptly goes up the stairs when Selena kills Lucas.
- Sex Is Interesting: Norman Page, of all people.
- Small Reference Pools: Chances are, if you know someone who knows Peyton Place, they're thinking of the TV show.
- Small Town Boredom: To say the least. A symptom of living in Peyton Place. Allison, naturally, plots her escape.