Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Swans of Fifth Avenue - Book Review

From the cover :

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 entrĂ©e 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 :

Melanie Benjamin excels at bringing lesser known stories from history back to life (I loved The Aviator's Wife). Imagining the unusual relationships between Truman Capote, devious and charming, and his beautiful alluring "Swans", Benjamin plunges her readers right into the shallow glamorous world of New York high society in The Swans of Fifth Avenue. Everyone is out for themselves in this world and they tell themselves and each other lies to cover their own insecurities and infidelities. Yet, Baby Paley feels like she has finally made a true and lasting connection with Capote. They love each other in a truly honorable and complete way and will always be faithful to each other. Of course.

I was completely captivated and entranced by Benjamin's treatment of these people, their story and scandal. It's not a world I've ever paid much attention to and yet I was immediately intrigued. I interrupted my reading regularly to google the characters on my phone so that I could see their pictures and their gorgeous clothes and the stunning lifestyles in Benjamin's novel. I found and read about Truman's Black and White Ball in Vanity Fair online. It was fun to see the pictures and it added to my enjoyment of the story. However, Benjamin recreated the scenes and the clothes and the people so well that I didn't really need the pictures. When the pictures are added, they so perfectly fit the scenes already described by Benjamin that I felt surely she had been there. At the very least, her research is impeccable. 

These flamboyant people led lives of excess and grandeur and were loathsome, yet I couldn't look away. And in the midst of all the distasteful scandals, Benjamin paints the picture of Baby Paley, always classy, vulnerable and sympathetic. I cared about her--really cared, even while pitying her in her fortune. Benjamin doesn't just tell the story and the scandal and the fallout. She writes about people and she inspires the reader to respond with powerful emotions whether disgust or empathy.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a book to devour and to talk about. Intrigued by Truman Capote, I ordered a copy of In Cold Blood. I shared all the sordid details with my husband. It would make a great novel for book clubs because at it's heart it is a book about relationships with people and how we hurt and abuse those we love for our own personal gain. It's a human story with a human heart.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin is published by Delacorte Press and released on January 26, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Swans of Fifth Avenue. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

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