I am always in the mood for a good gossipy read. But it has to be good.
It has to be smart and sharp and funny and interesting and totally engrossing. The Royal We, The Knockoff, Crazy Rich Asian, China Rich Girlfriend, Big Little Lies – it needs to be able to keep up with these favourites.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin totally does.
It’s the 1950s and Truman Capote meets Babe Paley and manages to become friendly with her and her social group. These women, Gloria Guinness, Slim Keith, C.Z Guest and Pamela Churchill are the very top of New York Society. They do not admit new friends easily but there is something about Capote that captures their imaginations – they treat him as a kind of mascot. He makes himself indispensable to them and with Babe especially he forges a strong friendship. Soon they cannot do without each other.
But Truman is, above all, a writer. And sooner or later he’s going to use his access to his “swans” against one or all of them to his benefit.
I. Loved. This. Book.
I loved the glimpse Benjamin gave us behind closed doors, the luxury that’s casually described on every page. And yet, with all the tremendous trappings of wealth that these women and their kind were surrounded by, somehow Benjamin is able to strip that away enough to show us that they were also people. People with incredible wealth and privilege but people that had their own share of problems.
Ultimately, The Swans of Fifth Avenue is about the friendship between Truman and Babe and how it shaped both their lives. When Truman exploits that friendship it has devastating consequences for each of them. It is sharp and thorough and wonderful. Yes, these people had obscene amounts of money and originally that was a part of this book’s charm. But such is Benjamin’s talent that I was able to see beyond that to the people that they were and the social structures that they were trapped by.
This book sent me down an internet rabbit hole. I googled images of the famous Black and White Ball that Truman Capote hosted in 1966. I fell through pages on Wikipedia to do with these women and their husbands. Mostly, I wanted to know more about who Babe was. I have a biography of Babe and her sisters (one married FDR’s son, another an Astor) out from the library right now for this reason. I want to know everything. And In Cold Blood has moved back to the top of my TBR List.
What was the last book that sent you searching for more information?
8 thoughts on “The Swans of Fifth Avenue”
When I started seeing this around, I thought it sounded like something you would like! I’ve already put it on my list, and it’s also made me want to read some Capote (I’ve had In Cold Blood on my shelf for eons, and I should have read it by now because it’s one of my sister’s favourite books. But you know how it is…) I hope you get some more good stuff out of the biography you found at the library!
The last book I read that had me googling was Roughing It In the Bush by Susanna Moodie (I just finished it). I wanted to know more about her family and other things going on at the time. I tried not to google too much, because I didn’t want to ruin Sisters in the Wilderness for myself!
How neat!! I hadn’t even heard of this but it sounds so twisty. Capote seems like such an interesting character to read about. I read and loved BaT years ago and want to read In Cold Blood eventually too! Hope you get to it soon and let me know what you think :).
Just put this on the hold list! I’m glad you loved it.
I’m so glad you loved this! I gave it 5 stars for being absolutely perfect at what it was trying to do. And I too went looking for books about Babe Paley. Is the one you found The Sisters? I have it on my list for non-fiction November- holding out for some good dish!
It was completely perfect. Yes – that’s the one. It’s an easy read and I’m enjoying it but I can help but feel like Grafton is a fangirl who can’t totally be objective about his subjects.
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