MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
For our summer series My Guilty Pleasure, we've been asking serious writers to recommend frivolous books, books they are embarrassed to love. Today, Laura Dave, author of the novel "The Divorce Party," she picked a literary soap opera.
Ms. LAURA DAVE (Author, "The Divorce Party"): When I was a little girl, my mother used to let me stay up on Friday nights to watch "Dallas." I loved that show. The scheming and the relationships, the refined way J.R. would pour himself a glass of scotch just as he was about to ruin someone's life. And yet, watching with my mom made me feel more than a little embarrassed.
I had a similar feeling at age 11 when I first picked up "Peyton Place," a trashy romp of sex, murder and love in a small New England town. I rarely talk about my love for this pulpy novel. Why? Somehow, whenever I enter its world, I return to my wide-eyed tween self. I am in my camp bunk reading a book that I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to be reading.
"Peyton Place" was released in 1956 to quite a stir. The tale of Constance, her illegitimate daughter Allison, and Selena, the employee from the wrong side of the tracks, made its way into 60,000 homes in its first 10 days of release.
It's not just the adultery, lust, lies and crime that show what happens in a small town once the visitors leave, it's the language. From the first words -Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle — it drips off the page, moving you slowly and confidently in the direction of nastiness.
My own peek-a-boo relationship was heightened by the fact that early in chapter four, I learned Constance's lover had lived with his real wife and children in my hometown. How could that be? People like that didn't live near me.
But let's be honest here. In the past half-century, many TV shows have blown way past the sordid secrets of "Peyton Place." "Sex and the City" took the scandal out of sex in any city. And "Big Love" managed to make heroes of men donning multiple wives. Even Judy Blume's "Forever" is more risque.
But "Peyton Place" has something over its heirs. It takes us to that time when there were secrets, still sordid boundaries to be broken, when something could sneak up behind you and give you a fast and dirty shock. It is able to tap into something that nothing has tapped into since: sin. When I was 11, "Peyton Place" made me feel like I was trespassing into people's homes, revealing sexual politics and power, cruelty and manipulation. I loved the soap opera drama.
Now there are so many places to get that kind of fix — "Brewster," "Melrose," "True Blood." For my money, "Peyton Place" is the one I want to visit first, this in spite of the fact that it always takes me back to the first sin of all: embracing a book I swiped from my camp counselor when she wasn't looking. But if you tell anyone, I'm going to deny it.
BLOCK: Laura Dave is the author of "The Divorce Party." Her pick for our Guilty Pleasures series is "Peyton Place" by Grace Metalious.
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