For Annie Barnes, going home to Middle River means dealing with truths long hidden, some of which she buried there herself. But it is a journey she knows she must take if she is to put to rest, once and for all, her misgivings about her mother's recent death.
To an outsider, Middle River is a picture-perfect New Hampshire town. But Annie grew up there, and she knows all its secrets -- as did her idol Grace Metalious, author of the infamous novel Peyton Place, which laid a small town's sexual secrets bare for all the world to see. Though Grace actually lived in a nearby town, the residents of Middle River have always believed she used them as the model for her revolutionary novel, and some even insist Annie's grandmother was the model for one of Grace's most scandalous characters. With these rumors and whispers about Peyton Place haunting her childhood, Annie came to identify so closely with the author that it was Grace and her bold rebellion against 1950s conformity that inspired Annie to get out of Middle River and make a life for herself in Washington, D.C.
It's been a good life, too. Annie Barnes is now a bestselling author, reaching that level with only her third novel. Success has given her a confidence she never had as a young girl in Middle River -- and it has given the residents of that town something new to worry about. When they hear Annie is returning for a lengthy visit, everyone, including Annie's two sisters, believes she's coming home to write about them.
Though amused by the discomfort she causes in Middle River, Annie has no intention of writing a novel about the town or its people. It is her mother's death -- under circumstances that don't quite add up -- that has brought her back, and soon her probing questions start to make people nervous. When she discovers evidence of dangerous pollutants emanating from the local paper mill -- poisons that she comes to believe contributed to her mother's fatal illness -- Annie finds herself at odds with most of the town's inhabitants, including her sisters, both of whom are seemingly unfazed by the incriminating evidence she uncovers. Because the mill is the town's main employer, everyone is afraid of what might happen if Annie digs deeper, and their fears soon start to turn ugly.
For Annie, though, there is no turning back, as passion and rage propel her forward in a determined quest. Coming face-to-face with decades of secrets and lies, she knows she must find the strength to move beyond the legacy of Grace Metalious, defying her past to heal the wounds of the town and her own family.
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July 11, 2005
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Excerpt from Looking for Peyton Place by Barbara Delinsky
I approached Middle River at midnight--pure cowardice on my part. Had I chosen to, I might have left Washington at seven in the morning and reached town in time to cruise down Oak Street in broad daylight. But then I would have been seen. My little BMW convertible, bought used but adored, would have stood out among the pickups and vans, and my D.C. plates would have clinched it. Middle River had expected me back in June for the funeral, but it wasn't expecting me now. For that reason, my face alone would have drawn stares.
But I wasn't in the mood to be stared at, much less to be the night's gossip. As confident as my Washington self was, that confidence had gradually slipped as I had driven north. I drank Evian; I nibbled a grilled salmon wrap from Sutton Place and snacked on milk chocolate Toblerone. I rolled my white jeans into capris, raised the collar of my imported knit shirt, caught my hair up in a careless twist held by bamboo sticks--anything to play up sophistication, to no avail. By the time I reached Middle River, I was feeling like the dorky misfit I had been when I left town fifteen years before.
Focus, I told myself for the umpteenth time since leaving Washington. You're not dorky anymore. You've found your niche. You're a successful woman, a talented writer. Critics say it; the reading public says it. The opinion of Middle River doesn't matter. You're here for one reason, and one reason alone.
Indeed, I was. All I had to do was to remember that Mom wouldn't be at the house when I arrived, and my anger was stoked. I wrapped myself in that anger and in the warm night air when, in an act of defiance just south of town, I lowered the convertible top. When Middle River came into view, I was able to see every sleepy inch.
To the naive eye, especially under a clear moon, the setting was quaint. In Peyton Place, the main street was Elm. In ours, it was Oak. Running through the center of town, it was wide enough to allow for sidewalks, trees, and diagonal parking. Shops on either side were softly lit for the night in a way that gave a brief inner glimpse of the purpose of each: a lineup of lawn mowers in Farnum Hardware, shelves of magazines in News 'n Chews, vitamin displays at The Apothecary. Around the corner was the local pub, the Sheep Pen, dark except for the frothy stein that hung high outside.