Melanie Benjamin is a New York Times best selling author for the novel, The Aviator’s Wife. Her recent novel, The Swans of Fifth Avenue will most likely also hit the best selling list for its easy, laid back style and its high society characters of 1950s New York. The book opens with the publication of “La Cote Basque 1965,” a short story that would eventually turn into a novel. A short story that pokes fun at the socialites, exposes their secret lives. The novel focuses mostly on Truman Capote and his friendship with Babe Paley, but also features the socialites Slim Keith, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Churchill and C. Z. Guest–“The Swans” as well as their elite and influential husbands. The publication of the story has sent the swans aflutter.
At that point, the novel turns back in time. To the beginning, where none of them can remember when Truman Capote was enveloped into their tight circle, but they all agree that he fit in so nicely it was as if he had always been there. The novel follows the lives of the socialites from the perspective of Truman Capote. Capote is represented as a spoiled child most of the time. The swans pamper and swoon him, but he turns needy and desperate. His character is not all that enjoyable to read. The book moves fast and it’s an easy read. There are a number of characters to have interest in throughout the novel. Lots of New York of the 50s, lots of money and abundance, secrets and insecurities.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue was an enjoyable read, but it’s fluff without a whole lot of substance. This is not surprising due to the nature of the characters themselves. The ending for some is tragic, while others just float out of the frame of the novel by the end.
The novel seems to set out to understand why Capote would write such truths and expose his swans the way that he ultimately did. All of the scenes and information presented seems to be used for this purpose. The novel was successful in showing why Capote was so interested and how he was able to gain access to the information by being accepted into the appropriate social circles. The novel is an interesting view of this elite world from the eyes of an outsider and how he eventually understood and used the information in part for his own personal gain. I had hoped to see more of New York of this time period, but the setting was more focused on the restaurants and houses of the individuals than the city itself.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Delacorte Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.