The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a look inside the glamorous lives of the Manhattan elite—where old money meets fashion icon status meets art and literature. The book showcases the friendship between Babe Paley and Truman Capote—a love that was never to be traditional, but a friendship that had all the markers of the two being soulmates. That is, until Truman Capote exposes the private lives of his swans inside of a few stories published in Esquire.
The idea that this is a fictionalized version of Truman Capote's reality was what made this book a little bland for me. Who wants to read about a bunch of rich people who take on a little weirdo to amuse themselves? And the names: Guinness, Whitney, Astor, Vanderbilt, Paley, etc.—if you aren't familiar with any of these old money family names and what influence they had on Manhattan society in the 1930s-1970s, you probably won't understand why Capote is so adamant about being in their company.
Yes, I read the blurb before picking up this book, but it didn't seem to stick that this was about real-life people. While I know that Truman Capote did once have a standing in this social circle, it took me awhile to actually realize that this book had more than one real-life (though somewhat fictionalized) character. Yes, the book did have names I recognized as real people, such as Gloria Vanderbilt and Jackie Kennedy, but it turns out all of Truman's swans did exist in real life. After reading two-thirds of the book, curiosity got the best of me and I started looking up these people, learning that this novel was extremely well researched. However, that just leads me to believe that this book should include a “Manhattan Socialites of the Mid-Twentieth Century” primer so the whole picture is a little clearer. In fact, many of these Manhattan socialites have such good scandals in their backgrounds that it's a bit disappointing that, at most, these blips on their timeline are mentioned in passing to set Capote up for his ultimate demise with his swans.
This book does get interesting after awhile, but most of it is just waiting for something exciting to happen. And let's be honest—rich people are boring. What are the things that differentiates them from the rest of society? They spend money all day long and get to hobnob with authors, artists and musicians that rely on this society set to elevate them to the general public. That's about it.
Since the real stories of the swans are just as good, I wouldn't consider reading this until being educated on the Upper East Side pageantry these people were involved in during their lifetime.
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