The Swans of Fifth Avenue
by Melanie Benjamin
published by Delacorte Press
This is really my kind of book. It is based on true people, has secrets, scandals, affairs, style glamour, and betrayal. If that sounds like too much, it’s not. Melanie Benjamin does a wonderful job of bringing us into the inner circle of the rich and glamorous of New York society in the mid 1900s. She paints a picture of the relationship that blossoms between author Truman Capote and his “Swans” – the women of the social elite in New York- Babe Pauley, Slim Keith, Gloria Guiness, and Pamela Harriman. These ladies seem to serenely drift through a series of lunches, shopping and parties on estates and yachts. We also see the underbelly of their lives- the addictions, affairs, and betrayals. We float along as they take Capote under their wings, each believing they are closest to him. We are there when Capote finally breaks into the big time with his publication of the true crime novel In Cold Blood. This is followed with his famous Black & White Ball. Desperate to put out another successful story, he publishes the short story Le Cote Basque 1965 in Esquire magazine. The title is a direct reference to the storied restaurants the Swans would always lunch at. Here is a great article about that piece and its fall out-needless to say Truman was shocked to find himself totally cut off from the friends he betrayed.
This was such a great book. It was fun but held my interest completely. My only problem was that I had to keep putting it down so I could google pictures of all these glamorous people!
Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley—this book is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.