Title: The Swans of Fifth Avenue The Swans of Fifth Avenue
Author: Melanie Benjamin
No. of Pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: Random House Publishing Group
Release Date: 26 January 2016
“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 prestigious 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.”
My Thoughts: My feelings for Melanie Benjamin’s latest novel are complicated. On the one hand, I adore her prose. She brings you right into the drama and really makes you sympathize with Babe and her set. On the other hand, so much of this book is about people who never have to worry about money, who are so used to having things done their way that they cannot imagine any other life. It is difficult to feel sorry for people who are in gilded cages of their own making.
Therein lies the crux of my issue with The Swans of Fifth Avenue. At first, I was seduced by that lifestyle. Who wouldn’t want a closet of the latest designer fashions, Ferragamo shoes, or Balenciaga bags? Who wouldn’t want the chance to have the best stylists and makeup artists prepare you for a night out on the town? Who wouldn’t want the ability to go to any place you want, whenever, wherever, and not have to worry about silly things like bills or credit card debt or work? Benjamin gives us a fascinating glimpse into this lifestyle with all of its lures and faults.
However, like all good things, the shine of this lifestyle wears off, and you are left with disdain for Babe’s group. Yes, they are beautiful and stylish, but their lives have no meaning. Fidelity and backstabbing are just a way of life for them. They are all so unhappy, and yet they do nothing about it. Babe laments her loneliness and lack of a faithful husband but won’t leave him because that means leaving the lifestyle for which she was raised. In their opinion, it is far better to be severely unhappy and wealthy beyond measure than happy and poor. That’s some sick and twisted logic right there.
Then there is Truman Capote. His part of the story is equally tragic, but then again, that was his life. He was so desperate to make it to the elite class of artists and so jealous of any of his peers who did so before him that his eventual crash-and-burn was all but ordained. While Benjamin does an excellent job showcasing the real Truman Capote, especially in those early years, you still cannot help but recall the caricature of himself that he became towards the end. I know her intention was to try to help people see beyond that silliness, but I believe this is a case where his personality was too great to overcome. However, it did make me want to read In Cold Blood again, so there is that.
I suspect that I will be in the minority of those who do not love every minute of The Swans of Fifth Avenue. Honestly, I loved every minute of it until Truman’s ball. Once he begins his descent from high society, the story loses something. What was once an absolute delight to read becomes something of a chore. I think this is in part because nothing really changes. Babe and her set still face the same problems at home, still have to fight each other and the younger crowd to stay in the spotlight and remain trendsetters. They make no effort to change their lives but still lament their troubles. It is sad and yet the repetition of this gets old. Then again, it could just be me being cranky.