cover image Unbuttoning America: A Biography of "Peyton Place"

Unbuttoning America: A Biography of "Peyton Place"

Ardis Cameron. Cornell Univ., $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8014-5364-9

University of Southern Maine American Studies professor Cameron (Radicals of the Worst Sort) presents a unique synthesis of historical research and fresh analysis in this study of Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, a bestselling 1956 novel later made into a movie and TV series. Eisenhower-era America experienced the book, with its overt treatment of socially taboo topics like female sexuality and ethnic disenfranchisement, as the literary equivalent of the H-bomb. Cameron dexterously tracks the shock waves, unearthing gushing fan letters as well as scathing reviews that deemed the book "a lethal weapon aimed at the purity of family life." Cameron's intelligent treatment of a racy novel meant to be read "often at night, under bedcovers, a flashlight illuminating the guilty pleasures of the act" makes for a fascinating read in and of itself. It is a rare feat for such an overtly academic work to have such a smooth, comfortable prose style. While Peyton Place is often remembered as frivolous, Cameron reminds readers of its resounding cultural impact, which uprooted ideas of normalcy and helped set the tone for modern America. (May)