The Swans of Fifth Avenue
By: Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Random House/Ballantine
Publication Date: 1/26/2016
My Rating: 5 Stars (Swans) Top Books of 2016 The New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife returns with a triumphant new novel about New York's “Swans” of the 1950s—and the scandalous, headline-making, and enthralling friendship between literary legend Truman Capote and peerless socialite Babe Paley. Of all the glamorous stars of New York high society, none blazes brighter than Babe Paley. Her flawless face regularly graces the pages of Vogue, and she is celebrated and adored for her ineffable style and exquisite taste, especially among her friends—the alluring socialite Swans Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill. By all appearances, Babe has it all: money, beauty, glamour, jewels, influential friends, a high-profile husband, and gorgeous homes. But beneath this elegantly composed exterior dwells a passionate woman—a woman desperately longing for true love and connection. Enter Truman Capote. This diminutive golden-haired genius with a larger-than-life personality explodes onto the scene, setting Babe and her circle of Swans aflutter. Through Babe, Truman gains an unlikely entrée into the enviable lives of Manhattan's elite, along with unparalleled access to the scandal and gossip of Babe's powerful circle. Sure of the loyalty of the man she calls “True Heart,” Babe never imagines the destruction Truman will leave in his wake. But once a storyteller, always a storyteller—even when the stories aren't his to tell. Truman's fame is at its peak when such notable celebrities as Frank and Mia Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, and Rose Kennedy converge on his glittering Black and White Ball. But all too soon, he'll ignite a literary scandal whose repercussions echo through the years. The Swans of Fifth Avenue will seduce and startle readers as it opens the door onto one of America's most sumptuous eras.
A special thank you to Random House, NetGalley, and LibraryThing early reviewers for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Best of both worlds--digital and print. When you think of Melanie Benjamin’s writing, and her spectacular historical novels which come alive with rich characters—reminiscent of past eras, as THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE, representative of: Timeless Elegance. Classic. Society. Glamour. Passion. Elite. Literary. Cultured. Flawless. Sophisticated. Vintage. Stylish. . . . And often S C A N D A L O U S ! A literary scandal. Truman had divulged secrets. He called it literature. His friends had shunned him. He died. A cautionary tale. Social suicide. However, what happened in "between the lines?" The author peels back the layers. The exquisite swan, Babe with the grotesque Truman. Why? She explores what happened between Truman and Babe. This is the story the author so elegantly tells, an inspiring blend of fact with fiction. “What happened to Truman Capote and his swans?
What happened to elegance. What truly was the price they paid for the lives they lived. For there is always a price. Especially in fairy tales.” Set in the dazzling world of the elite in 1950s and 1960s, meet the alluring socialite “Swans”: Babe Paley, Slim Keith, C.Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill-- New York society. Babe Paley, the stunningly beautiful socialite befriends literary Truman Capote and introduces him to her friends. Gaining insights into the lives of Manhattan’s elite and influential –their secrets, scandals, and hidden desires. Truman Capote soon became known as the darling of an inner circle he called his "swans." Babe is married to a high-profile husband, wife of CBS president William S. Paley, a beautiful home, wealthy, jewels, travel, and influence, social circles, and all which come with the lifestyle. However, she is lonely and wants love…. Truman is available. Truman was obsessed not so much by money, as he was by many of those who have it. The stylish rich. Women delighted him, and he pleasured them in every way but one—the physical act of love. He is adored by the swans. They enjoyed his company, as much as he enjoyed theirs. He admired all of his swans, but the one who captured his head and heart was in some ways, the loveliest of all. However, in 1975, the dear friends and Manhattan socialites discover the literary lion Truman Capote has betrayed them, revealing their dirtiest secrets, to the world in a story published to great fanfare in Esquire. The latest issue had hit the stands, the cover profile picture of a fat and pasty-looking Truman Capote, the headline trumpeting the acclaimed author of, In Cold Blood’s newest, hotly anticipated short story. “La Cote Basque 1965,” it was called. The murder Capote had committed, by telling the stories he had told. Stories he had no right to tell. Stories they never should have told him in the first place. Lunch at La Cote Basque was not for soul-searching. Now they are seeing their exclusive, privileged, envied set-eviscerated, skin flayed open, souls laid bare, ugliness, acknowledged. Secrets betrayed and lives destroyed. By the viper in their nest; the storyteller in their midst. Now the four are trying to recall how the southern-fried bastard arrived here in the first place. The story of how Truman came to betray all his swans—one especially. The one they all loved. The one he loved. I have always read in Vanity Fair and other writings: "Of all Truman’s writing, “La Côte Basque” is probably the one piece that can be called a tour de force: he has transformed a table in a Manhattan restaurant into a stage on which he has placed his own jet-set Vanity Fair." But Truman had more than literature in mind when he wrote “La Côte Basque.” He also used it to get back at some of his rich friends who, for one reason or another, had offended him over the years. A fabulous account and reenactment –the author’s view of these mythological creatures. Best of all Benjamin outlines the fact and the fiction; where she took leeway and stretched the imaginations. A large portion was factual with some liberties-- expanding the emotions, motivations and intent. What I absolutely LOVED was the Author’s Note. When a reader invests their time reading, blogging and reviewing—AND the time, research, and effort –heart and soul --an author pours into creating a novel---to learn what inspired a writing-- is always a special gift and an added bonus, to further enhance the overall reading experience. You always wonder the why, how, when? Why choose certain time periods to explore, or subjects? I can envision Benjamin as a girl with her Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, drawing her into the world of glamour and sophistication. City lights. I had to laugh about the parent's view of city life and its dangers (sounded like mine). I enjoyed hearing her story, the beautiful images, clothes which were exquisite and unattainable. Fashion—fantasizing about the people and the places. Her passion and enthusiasm is reflective throughout the pages, as the characters come alive. The spark-- there is always more to the story. A story within a story. Well-researched. Engrossing. Priceless! No one can re-tell it like storyteller, Melanie Benjamin. Loved the Palm Beach portions (Oct 1975), of course; as C.Z. recalls Truman—when he stopped being Truman. The gay, gossipy little friend, arm candy, pocket change, was another creature entirely. A giant, a literary sentinel. His greatest achievement to his greatest failure. A chic sophisticated front cover, beautifully packaged, compelling--exquisitely written, Deserving of 5 Swans. (5 Stars) The Swans of Fifth Avenue is set in a glittering fairyland—Manhattan in the 1950s and 1960s. This is the Manhattan of The Plaza, Tiffany's, Bergdorf's; the playground of Truman Capote and his Swans. Revisit the past. Follow the Footsteps of the Swans with Melanie Benjamin.
W H A T A L I S T !!!
—#1 Indie Next Pick for February 2016
— Named one of the Winter Books of 2015 by PopSugar —One of InStyle Book Club's "5 January Titles You Need to Curl Up with ASAP" —One of Entertainment Weekly's "11 Books You Have to Read in January"
"The dazzling world of the elite in 1950s and 1960s New York is the setting for this fourth novel by best-selling historical fiction author Benjamin (The Aviator's Wife). Riding high on his early literary successes, Truman Capote delights in the company of his 'swans,' a circle of wealthy married women attracted to both his impish charisma and his love of good gossip. Chief among these women is Barbara 'Babe' Paley, the always immaculately dressed and groomed wife of CBS president William S. Paley, who allows herself to be vulnerable around Capote in a way she can never be with her powerful husband. When a desperate Capote betrays his swans by publishing their darkest secrets, friendships crumble and hearts break.
VERDICT Fans of vintage New York glamour who loved books such as Amor Towles's Rules of Civility will relish this chance to experience vicariously the lives (and fashion choices!) of the city's rich and famous. Benjamin convincingly portrays a large cast of colorful historical figures while crafting a compelling, gossipy narrative with rich emotional depth. Highly Recommended." —Library Journal, starred review
"Elegant Babe's thoughts, if not her lips, are unsealed at last." —Kirkus Reviews
"Benjamin's fact-based narrative captures the era's juiciest scandals and wildest extravagances." —Publishers Weekly
"I am reading—and swooning over—The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, which releases next January. You probably know her from her last book, The Aviator's Wife. It's a juicy story of the friendship between Truman Capote and socialite Babe Paley. Her friends, known to Truman as 'the Swans,' include Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness and Pamela Churchill. The editor advised in her opening note that I would find myself googling all the characters as I read—and she has been soooo right." —Book Reporter
"The strange and fascinating relationship between Truman Capote and his 'swans'—Babe, Slim, Gloria and the other social x-ray women of the era are wonderfully re-imagined in this engrossing novel where everyone behaves so badly and yet has so much fun. It's a credit to Benjamin that we end up caring so much for these women of power, grace and beauty—and for Capote, too." —Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants
"A delicious tale of when society gossip became an art form, a spectator sport, and eventually a lethal weapon. Melanie Benjamin has turned Truman Capote's greatest scandal into your next must-read book club selection." —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
"Reading The Swans of Fifth Avenue is like being ushered into a party where you're offered champagne and fed the sumptuous secrets of New York's elite without having to pay the price afterwards. The swans are outmatched only by the elegance of Melanie Benjamin's prose—captivatingly earnest and sophisticated." —Vanessa Diffenbaugh, author of The Language of Flowers and We Never Asked for Wings
"A delicious amalgam of wit, gossip, beauty, and scandal, The Swans of Fifth Avenue serves up a fictional roller-coaster ride through the chic midcentury world of Truman Capote and his high-society muses, meticulously researched and cleverly imagined. From Capote's devious charm to Babe Paley's tragic glamour, Melanie Benjamin conjures, in vivid detail, a lost world where secrets were currency and antique pearls and a good martini were the only accessories that mattered. The season's must-read guilty pleasure." —Michael Callahan, author of Searching for Grace Kelly
"In a word—fabulous. The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a compulsively readable tale of friendship, betrayal, tragedy and unconventional love. Benjamin skillfully reveals the duplicity, narcissism, charm and vulnerability that defined Truman Capote and how those closest to him paid the price for his love of celebrity." —Renee Rosen, bestselling author of What the Lady Wants and White Collar Girl
"Melanie Benjamin's heart-rending story of Truman Capote's betrayal of the women who adored him is at once gossipy, intimate, poignant and astonishingly perceptive. Led along by Melanie's enviable gift for spinning a tale, I devoured this compulsively readable book in two sittings. I've told everyone I know to read Swans, because Melanie Benjamin is at the height of her storytelling prowess, with no end in sight." —Robin Oliveira, bestselling author of I Always Loved You
"The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a beautifully written story of friendship, love, and betrayal. It is a fascinating look at a gossipy, glamorous world filled with brilliant and vulnerable people. Every moment of triumph and tragedy is riveting, and Melanie Benjamin makes this gilded world come alive in a funny and moving novel that captivates from the first page to the last." —Edward Kelsey Moore, New York Times bestselling author of The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat
"The Beautiful People of the 60's and 70's glitter in this riveting tale of betrayal and greed in which Truman Capote trundles toward his own ruin. Irresistible, astonishing, and told with verve. Not to be missed." —Lynn Cullen, nationally bestselling author of Mrs. Poe
"The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a deliciously spiky novel of love and betrayal in 1950s high society Manhattan. In prose as elegant as her real-life characters, Melanie Benjamin delivers a glittering but cautionary tale of the corrosive effects of celebrity. I loved every page of it." —Alex George, author of A Good American
About the Author
Photo by Deborah Feingold
Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling historical novel, THE AVIATOR'S WIFE, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her previous historical novels include the national bestseller ALICE I HAVE BEEN, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age. Her novels have been translated in over ten languages, featured in national magazines such as "Good Housekeeping," "People," and "Entertainment Weekly," and optioned for film.Melanie is a native of the Midwest, having grown up in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she pursued her first love, theater.
After raising her two sons, Melanie, a life-long reader (including being the proud winner, two years in a row, of her hometown library's summer reading program!), decided to pursue a writing career. After writing her own parenting column for a local magazine, and winning a short story contest, Melanie published two contemporary novels under her real name, Melanie Hauser, before turning to historical fiction.
Melanie lives in Chicago with her husband, and near her two grown sons. In addition to writing, she puts her theatrical training to good use by being a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau. When she isn't writing or speaking, she's reading. And always looking for new stories to tell. Website Goodreads Twitter