The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

I requested this book because the author, Melanie Benjamin, is one of my favorites. I knew almost nothing about Truman Capote except that he was in “Murder by Death,” and of course I’ve seen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I had never heard of Babe Paley or any of the other “swans” that made up high society in 1965 New York.

Swans of Fifth Avenue Front Cover ( Delacorte Press/Random House)

Swans of Fifth Avenue Front Cover ( Delacorte Press/Random House)

THE PLOT: Truman Capote is the darling of New York society, riding high on his recent success. He becomes the dearest, most beloved friend of Babe Paley, the wife of Bill Paley, who built CBS into a network. Truman attends exclusive parties with very rich people, but none of them are really friends the way he and Babe are. Truman’s demons, though, propel him to keep pushing the envelope and behave more and more scandalously. From the throwing the famous Black-and-White Ball to writing the tell-all book revealing the deepest secrets of his “swans,” Truman goes on a downward spiral that ends with him alienating all his friends, even Babe.

MY TWO CENTS: As far as historical fiction goes, the 1960s are definitely not my usual comfort zone! But I was immediately sucked into this world that was completely foreign to me. The descriptions made me feel as if I were there, living this dream life that only a very privileged few ever experience. Of course, the flip side is that it isn’t a dream life at all. There is no love, no family; only appearances, false friends, cheating husbands, and children cared for by nannies.

Babe Paley and Truman Capote seem to have a real, true friendship amidst all this falseness. On Babe’s side, it’s a platonic romance with the love her life; on his side, a replacement for his mother’s indifference. But Truman has a self-destructive streak that won’t allow him to be happy. After finding great success and real love, Truman seems to intentionally and aggressively wreck his life.

Babe is written almost as Melanie Hamilton. As the world of graciousness she knows decays around her, she will stay a true lady to the end.

BOTTOM LINE: Not my usual choice for historical fiction setting, but I was completely captivated. Readers will probably come away from this book thoughtful and sad, but not depressed. That’s an important distinction to me.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be available in hardcover, eformats, and audio on January 26, 2016.

BONUS: Reckless Hearts, a short story prequel about the relationship between Slim Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, is also now available in eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.



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