Jennifer's Reviews > The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

really liked it
bookshelves: 2016-books, historical-fiction

Tell me -- What is your greatest fear?

There was a long silence. No sounds but the low hum of the pool filter, the faraway grazing of a lawn mower, and the determined "clip clip" of a gardener on the other side of some tall azalea bushes, trimming away.

"That someone will see," Babe whispered, while at the same time, Truman murmured, "That someone will find me out."

"That no one will love me," Truman added after another moment. While at the same time, Babe admitted, "And that I'll never be loved, truly."

In her latest novel, Melanie Benjamin peeks behind the curtain of the famous friendships (and infamous exploits) of Truman Capote and his "Swans" -- the best-known New York socialites of the early and mid 1960's, including Babe Paley, Slim Keith and others. For years Capote and his Swans, particularly Babe, were inseparable, until Capote published a scathing short fiction piece in Esquire magazine that was a thinly-disguised portrait of the most embarrassing aspect of the Swans' lives. After publication, a schism developed between Capote and the group, and he was ostracized from their circle for good.

I found this book to be fascinating. On one level, it could just be read as a story of the glitterati gallivanting around the big city (and the world) doing nothing more than spending money and being "fabulous." But I looked at it as more as a character study -- both of the individuals involved and of personality types in general -- and a tale of love and friendship.

I know a bit about Truman Capote, but I haven't read about him extensively or seen any of the biopics about his life. Benjamin describes for us a man who is simultaneously overconfident about his talent and importance, yet still desperately longing for approval and acceptance.

"If he only told the best stories, dished the most delicious gossip, dropped the grandest of names.

Then, perhaps. Then. Would he truly belong?"

Why would Capote, who seemed to find pure (though platonic) love with Babe Paley, turn around and betray her in such a public way? Was it hubris? Did he think that they were so close she'd forgive him? Did he think he was so smart that no one would know who he was writing about? I don't know. It's a question as old as time -- why does any friend betray another?

I knew nothing about the famous 1960's socialites, but their worries and concerns are the same the world over, particularly for women obsessed with beauty, who think they're going to be "traded in" for a newer model when their husbands get bored.

"Blond, brunette, tall, short, European or Californian, they were still the same; only the exteriors were different. And they devoted their lives to maintaining this difference, striving to shine, be the one jewel who stood out. Yet at night, they took off the diamonds, and gowns and went to empty beds resigned to the fact that they were just women, after all. Women with a shelf life."

4 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.
65 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Swans of Fifth Avenue.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

November 24, 2015 – Shelved
November 24, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
January 26, 2016 – Started Reading
February 1, 2016 – Finished Reading
February 2, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016-books
February 2, 2016 – Shelved as: historical-fiction

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ Wonderful review, was waiting for a friend to review this. Not too soap operish? That is what I was afraid of. Have it and she has made several best of lists so will probably read sooner or later. Thanks, Jennifer.

B the BookAddict Through his jet set social life Capote had been gathering observations for a tell-all novel, Answered Prayers (eventually to be published as Answered Prayers - The Unfinished Novel. The book, which had been in the planning stages since 1958, was intended to be the American equivalent of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time and a culmination of the "nonfiction novel" format. Initially scheduled for publication in 1968, the novel was eventually delayed, at Capote's insistence, to 1972. Capote spoke about the novel in interviews, but continued to postpone the delivery date.

Capote permitted Esquire to publish four chapters of the unfinished novel in 1975 and 1976. The first to appear, "Mojave", ran as a self-contained short story and was favorably received, but the second, "La Côte Basque 1965", based in part on the dysfunctional personal lives of Capote's friends William S. Paley and Babe Paley, generated controversy. Although the issue featuring "La Côte Basque" sold out immediately upon publication, its much-discussed betrayal of confidences alienated Capote from his established base of middle-aged, wealthy female friends, who feared the intimate and often sordid details of their ostensibly glamorous lives would be exposed to the public.

message 3: by Jen (new)

Jen Great review Jennifer!

message 4: by Phyllis (new)

Phyllis Great review.

message 5: by Diane (new) - added it

Diane Barnes I want to read this. I'm glad you liked it.

message 6: by Angela M (new)

Angela M Great review!

message 7: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer Masterson Great review Jennifer!

☮Karen Will read your review after I read this, soon I hope.

Jennifer Diane S ⛄ wrote: "Wonderful review, was waiting for a friend to review this. Not too soap operish? That is what I was afraid of. Have it and she has made several best of lists so will probably read sooner or later. ..."

One could certainly look at the lives of the people/characters in the book as frivolous and soap operish, but I think Benjamin does a good job of diving deeper and trying to examine their inner lives. Hope I don't steer you wrong if you decide to read it!

message 10: by Dana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dana Great review! Adding this one to my list!

message 11: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Very nice review, Jennifer!

message 12: by I. (new) - rated it 2 stars

I. Good to know I'm not alone in my feelings about this book

Felt as though it's was a preview for a movie which is might be a passable TV movie.

As a vanity Fair subscriber years I have read this story many times

message 13: by S (new) - added it

S Pear Sounds like a fun read.

Trisha Smith Great review!! Just started this last night and am excited to read it :)

back to top