Former Arizona resident pens book about Peyton Place sensation
Dave O. Dodge may have grown up in New England but he has traveled the world in a diverse and successful career in business and public relations, with his adventures leading to stints in Arizona and the Yucatan, Mexico where he now resides.
Along the way he has also been a prolific writer, penning articles for publications such as Food & Flourish, INBusinessMagazine, Frontdoors, Prime Living, and even OUTvoices Phoenix, when it was known as Echo magazine.
Now, the former Valley PR pro, charity guru and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community has penned his debut book, The Seasons of Grace, which returns to his New England roots.
The Seasons of Grace: The unauthorized backstory of Peyton Place documents the turbulent and headline-generating career and life of Grace Metalious, the author of blockbuster novel Peyton Place. Metalious was one of a handful of female superstar authors of the 20th Century whose lives were as fascinating as their bestselling books—think Daphne DuMaurier meets Jackie Collins!
Peyton Place became an unprecedented smash hit when it was first published in 1956 but it also scandalized America's perception of itself in the Eisenhower years as post-war picture perfect. Dubbed “the first dirty book,” it sold 12.5 million copies, with only The Bible selling more copies during the white picket fence-obsessed 1950s, and was made into an equally-successful Hollywood film.
To celebrate the 65th year of the book, Dodge revisited his New Hampshire roots, also the home of Metalious. Dodge's love affair with the book goes back to a writing class, post-high school in 1980, when he did a paper on Metalious.
"Peyton Place is ingrained into our psyches and our heritage in New Hampshire because it was a novel from the 1950s that sort of disrupted our quintessential place in New England, because she wrote this book that turned the rock over and exposed a lot of different things," Dodge reveals. "So I wrote this term paper and this instructor gave me a C-minus. I was pissed. And I thought to myself, OK, there goes my career as a writer. But you know, life goes on and I moved to Europe, to Portugal, in 1985, and that's when I started doing travel writing, and it was my Ernest Hemingway period, and I lived on the coast, and it was fabulous. I wrote a play about four men trapped in a cabin in New Hampshire. So I always go back to New England, because I only write what I know..."
Cut to Dodge's adventures in retail, PR and marketing, and his current big expat project, owner and operator with his husband of a B&B in the Yucatan, and you have a peripatetic and picturesque life. But the loose thread of Peyton Place was always there. And then during lockdown, as so many of us did, Dodge went rummaging through the past, pulled out that term paper, and decided to make it into something. Because Metalious had been on his mind for years.
"She wrote gorgeous novels set in New England in the '50s, and yet she died very tragically from addiction and alcoholism at the age of 39."
Metalious is a fascinating character as well as being a real-life person, which qualifies her for this biography. And for queer readers, Dodge suspects there was a hidden queer subtext to her life that made her able to accurately portray the double standards of 1950s moralism.
French Canadian and Catholic, Metalious lived with her sister, her mother, her grandmother, and her aunt in Manchester NH, a mill town where the male figure was either working or gone away forever, explains Dodge.
"And so I think she always had this desire...She was a ferocious reader and she read everything, and this transported her out of her doldrums into a world that she wanted."
In going after what she wanted Metalious was no stranger to scandal in her own life and fell pregnant while she was in high school, married at 18, and had her first of three children. All the while she wrote, says Dodge. Even before her first novel was published she churned out 350 short stories which were found after her death. And when Peyton Place came out, as successful as it was, it caused the folk in her adopted town of Gilmanton NH to give Metalious the cold shoulder.
In writing his biography, Dodge has concentrated on the ups and downs of Metalious's life and the context of it, particularly the seasons, which she relished, the seasonal patterns in her own short life, and the fundamentally human problem with love and relationships. Her last book was titled No Adam and Eve.
Which leads me to ask if Dodge uncovered any evidence that Metalious might have had queer leanings. He says she most certainly had queer friends who lived in Greenwich Village and possibly frequented the gay bars there which flourished at that time. An enduring theme of Metalious's books, before second wave feminism, is sexual freedom for women.
It's hard to know what caused the chronic alcoholism that led to her early death; whether there were repressed sexual longings of her own, or whether the public scrutiny of her artistic creations (she referred to her books as her "babies") took a toll on her nerves.
As for Dodge, he will always connect to Metalious, as a New Englander, as a self-taught writer, as an authentic adventurer who always goes home, even if it's between the pages.
If you happen to be in Merida, Mexico this fall, you can attend these book events for The Seasons of Grace:
10/29 – Sempre Literacy Café and 11/05 – Between the Lines Book Shop.
More information here.