Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grace Teague isn't my real name

Grace Teague isn’t my real name, it’s a collection of inside jokes and literary references. Just like my writing! (I hope not.)
The first name, I’ll explain right now. I stole it right from Grace Metalious.
I read Metalious’ novel, Peyton Place, in college. The book was out of print so we all had work with an unwieldy stack of photocopies, which should tell you a little bit about how long ago I went to school.  Even though I was an English major, this particular book wasn’t assigned in a literature class—it was a window into the history of the nineteen-fifties.
This book caused a huge sensation upon its publication. The opening line doesn’t hold back: 
“Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.”  
It stays with you and is so beautifully put together it makes you forget for a second you’ve just read a collection of uncomfortable stereotypes.  The whole story is like that, which makes it genuinely indicative of its time, but painfully dated.
This book offended me at the time I read it, and has never sat well with me since. It wasn’t just the rape scene that is played for romance and ends with the victim and the perpetrator happily married, or the implication that having a mom who was too affectionate would make a boy gay, or even the queasily racist back story of the town. The whole thing was designed completely to provoke.  This is some seriously overheated prose that makes the journalist in me want to edit.
Yet, I can still remember passages of text even though I read it more than fifteen years ago.  This book is kind of brilliant in its own way. I think Metalious was a talented writer who told a story about the private lives of women that hadn’t been told in that way before.
This quote from a 2006 Vanity Fair article by Michael Callahan says it all:
"She was a totally unbridled, free, glorious spirit," says Lynne Snierson, the daughter of Grace's longtime attorney, Bernard Snierson. "I didn't know any other woman like her. Grace swore, a lot, and she drank, a lot, and she had lots of guys around her. She got married and divorced and had affairs. And she talked about sex and she talked about real life and she didn't filter it. I didn't know any other woman who was like that in the 50s." 
Metalious was an outsider; well-read but never able to continue her education after high school, a housewife who married young and lived in a small town in New Hampshire.  She was a tragic figure as well. Her success led to divorce, she lost custody of her kids, squandered every penny she made from her writing and drank herself to death by the age of 39.
So why take her name?
I guess I wanted to pay tribute to one of the trailblazers in the genre. I am lucky enough to be able to write about stuff that interests me: woman stuff, relationship stuff, sex stuff. Even though there are a lot more woman now writing with Metalious' frankness, there's still the fear of backlash. Peyton Place was published in 1956, but I still feel the need to use an assumed name. 
Make of that what you will.


4 comments:

  1. Interesting stuff about the original Grace. Now you'll have to do a blog post about Teague.

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    1. Thanks for the comment and for reading! I am working on the Teague part. ;)

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  2. I haven't read Peyton Place but I'm ordering it now on Amazon so I can start asap. I am quite intrigued Grace Teague, quite intrigued indeed.

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    1. I'm glad you're going to read it! I can't wait to hear what you think of the book.

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