A New Book Puts "Peyton Place" Into Context

The classic sensational novel seen through an academic’s eye

Back in the 1950s, when “Peyton Place” was released, it was a “dirty book,” read under bed covers with a flashlight or in other places out of the public eye. Page numbers of the most lurid material (“have you seen page 184?”) were passed around schools and workplaces. Many bookstores wouldn’t sell it. Public figures denounced it.

“It reveals a complete debasement of taste and fascination with the filthy, rotten side of life that are the earmarks of the collapse of civilization.” So said William Loeb, then-publisher of the Union Leader.

But read the book “Unbuttoning America: A Biography of Peyton Place” [Cornell University Press, $24.95] by Ardis Cameron, and you’ll find the much-maligned novel — when put in its post-war cultural context by a scholarly writer — is rich with meaning and significance, way beyond just a dirty book.

Cameron, a professor of American and New England Studies at the University of Southern Maine, takes the reader on a journey through the changing landscape of the times and explains why 30 million people bought the book.

She also explains why its critics so feared it.

Fascinating. This is a must-read if you like social history and don’t mind a bit of academese.

 

Categories: Book Reviews

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