Tuesday, April 27, 2021
WWW. WEDNESDAY asks three questions to prompt you to speak bookishly. To participate, and to see how other book lovers responded, click here.
1. What are you currently reading? Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. Originally published in 1956, it became what Vanity Fair called "one of the best-selling dirty books ever." Its success grew into an Oscar-nominated film and TV's first nighttime "continuing drama" and today it remains short-hand for small-town scandal and hypocrisy.
65 years later, Peyton Place doesn't seem trashy. It's less about sex than the pressure to conform, and the price one pays for being different. The book begins in the late 1930s, so there are aspects of life that are gone (listening to the radio, anxiously awaiting the next edition of the newspaper and going to movies were this town's -- and most towns' -- only entertainments). But the fixation on "them," and always asking what "they" are thinking of us, is timeless.
The writing is less soapy/melodramatic and more slice of life than I expected. For example, eighth grader Allison MacKenzie is embarrassed by her mother's sophistication. Mrs. MacKenzie spent her 20s in Manhattan, and it showed. She was the only mother, among all Allison's classmates, who "prepared dinner" and "attended worship services." Everyone else's mother "made supper" and "went to church." This exacerbated Allison's feeling of otherness, as though she had a red line drawn around her. I remember being 12, and I understood. Allison had no idea that her best friend, Selena, secretly wanted to grow up to be just like Mrs. MacKenzie.
I don't know that I'll continue enjoying the book as much as I do now (I'm about a quarter of the way in), but I can say regardless, it's a pleasant surprise and better than I thought it would be.
2. What did you recently finish reading? Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls by Stephen Rebello. This book was terrific fun ... until it wasn't. I'm reminded of what Orson Welles once said, "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop the story." I wish Mr. Rebello had stopped this tale with the hilarious premiere voyage (the film was premiered onboard ship, and everything that could go wrong, did). Because up until and including this, the story was highly entertaining. Jackie Susann goes from showbiz neverwas to best-selling author, then Hollywood took her book and -- with hammy acting and a terrible script -- turned it into a camp classic. The hair! The clothes! The makeup! The awful songs! It was gloriously bad.
But Rebello goes on to tell us what happened to the Dolls gang after the film. The fun stops fast. The damage to Patty Duke's reputation and career lasted a decade. Jacqueline Susann battled and succumbed to cancer. So did Susan Hayward. The producer dropped dead on the golf course. Judy Garland, fired from the film, never made another movie and was dead in less than two years. Sharon Tate died the same summer as Judy, and in the worst way possible.
So if you're interested in the wonderfully bad movie, by all means pick this book up! I just recommend you put it down and move on as soon as the movie premieres.
3. What will read next? I don't know.