What is the biggest adult fiction novel of the 20th century? Not The Godfather. Not To Kill a Mockingbird. Not The Grapes of Wrath. It is "Peyton Place," which sold a stunning 20 million copies upon its publication in 1956, despite efforts of many libraries and booksellers - and even entire countries - to ban it.

The book is about small town life in New England, from about 1939 to 1944. With the war in the background, the book's central character, Allison Mackenzie, finds herself increasingly disenchanted with her hometown and the hypocrisies that abound - rape, incest, abortion, extramarital relationships, and the constant backstabbing among the town's business owners and residents. All to the point where she starts chronicling the antics, first in her town's paper, then for regional and even national magazines.

From today's perspective, the book is rather tame. But it is a reminder that the lack of values crosses the urban / rural divide and is a timeless problem. This book is not for the faint of heart, but is nonetheless rewarding.

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