The Swans of Fifth Avenue Summary and Reviews

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

by Melanie Benjamin

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin X
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2016
    368 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

The New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife returns with a triumphant new novel about New York's "Swans" of the 1950s - and the scandalous, headline-making, and enthralling friendship between literary legend Truman Capote and peerless socialite Babe Paley.

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 high-profile 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 entrée 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.

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Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Benjamin convincingly portrays a large cast of colorful historical figures while crafting a compelling, gossipy narrative with rich emotional depth." - Library Journal

"Benjamin's (The Aviator's Wife) fact-based narrative captures the era's juiciest scandals and wildest extravagances, but readers expecting the sympathetic protagonists of her earlier books may be disappointed by the diffuse and chilly cast of characters here." - Publishers Weekly

"Elegant Babe's thoughts, if not her lips, are unsealed at last. Those unaware of the scandal get CliffsNotes; and everyone else gets a chance to judge whether a swan's muteness can be more interesting than her gripe." - Kirkus

"The strange and fascinating relationship between Truman Capote and his 'swans' is wonderfully reimagined in this engrossing novel. It's a credit to Benjamin that we end up caring so much for these women of power, grace, and beauty - and for Capote, too." - Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants

"A delicious tale ... Melanie Benjamin has turned Truman Capote's greatest scandal into your next must-read book-club selection." - Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"Reading The Swans of Fifth Avenue is like being ushered into a party where you're offered champagne and fed the sumptuous secrets of New York's elite- without having to pay the price afterward. The swans are outmatched only by the elegance of Melanie Benjamin's prose - captivatingly earnest and sophisticated." - Vanessa Diffenbaugh, New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers

"The beautiful people of the fifties and sixties glitter in this riveting tale of betrayal and greed...Irresistible, astonishing, and told with verve...not to be missed." - Lynn Cullen, bestselling authorof Mrs. Poe

"From Truman Capote's devious charm to Babe Paley's tragic glamour, Melanie Benjamin conjures, in vivid detail, a lost world." - Michael Callahan, author of Searching for Grace Kelly

"A deliciously spiky novel of love and betrayal." - Alex George, author of A Good American

"Heart-rending ... at once gossipy, intimate, poignant, and astonishingly perceptive." - Robin Oliveira, bestselling author of I Always Loved You

"A compulsively readable tale of friendship, betrayal, tragedy, and unconventional love." - Renée Rosen, bestselling author of What the Lady Wants

"A beautifully written story of friendship, love, and betrayal, The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a fascinating look at a gossipy, glamorous world filled with brilliant and vulnerable people." - Edward Kelsey Moore, New York Times bestselling author of The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat

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Reader Reviews

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Swans of Fifth Avenue
Excellent book. The storytelling, the writing, and the embodiment of the characters are all on point. The cheeky humor makes it a delicious read!

Marie D. (Waretown, NJ)

Five beautiful swans - and one vicious predator
Ms. Benjamin's portrait of Babe Paley is so touching and intimate. Babe and her two sisters, the Cushing debutantes of Boston, were born into great wealth, but they were raised to see their future worth determined only by whether or not they would marry wealthy and socially acceptable men. Jewels, furs, penthouses, yachts and gorgeous clothes were the payback for being perfect "trophy" wives to the tycoons of business, or perhaps an English lord or two!

The Cushing girls all fulfilled their mother's dream by marrying well – and often! Babe defied her mother, however, with her choice of William Paley, a Jew, who was president of CBS during the Golden Age of Television.

The friendship among the "swans" reveals the wonderful protectiveness and solidarity of similar birds of a feather who are required to be beautiful and perfect always. The socialites became lifelong friends with an unbreakable connection which only their entanglements with Truman Capote, the ultimate predator fox, would destroy.

The swans unknowingly embraced the fox and allowed it to enter their world. Capote's "In Cold Blood," which I read as a young suburban mom, left me with a life long fear of rural living! It had the impact which the movie, "Jaws" has had on beach goers to this day! I recall reading the coverage of his Black and White party. Later, there would be an occasional sighting on a late night talk show and I wondered what happened to this amazing talent. After reading this book, I now know.

I was so eager to read this story. I was born in Brooklyn and, by a twist of fate, found myself working for Look Magazine in the 1950s! This beautifully written book is about the Manhattan I knew and loved. Far removed from the society of these swans, however, I do remember having the good fortune to see Bill Paley and his beautiful Babe at a publishers event!

Elizabeth K. (Glenshaw, PA)

The Swans of Fifth Avenue
I was so drawn into the characters of this book that I thought of them even when I was not reading. They are the people of that era, the "women who lunch" in New York all dressed up to impress, each with her own personal secret. Truman Capote was engulfed with his "swans". He with his own secrets, that stem from his insecure childhood. This was an insight into the Capote we never knew.

Elise B. (Macedonia, OH)

The Swans of Fifth Avenue
This novel appealed to me on many levels. From a historical fiction perspective, the story includes many very famous socialites of the 1950s and 60s that I had never heard of. The book took me longer than usual to read because I spent half of my time reading and half of it searching people online! I was just shocked at the lifestyles of these people and how they treated their marriages and children. It contained a strong message that money does not buy happiness. As a middle aged women, I could also relate to the changes these women were seeing as their looks faded and the younger generation was taking center stage.

Joan B. (Ellicott City, MD)

SWANS. People Mag Version
What a fun read! You need to tuck this special book in your purse for the beach or a long bus ride. Truman Capote morphs from beautiful to beastly among the jewels and glamour of Fifth Avenue. His bevy of beauties is exactly as shallow as you might of society matrons mired in egocentric pursuits. This page turner has too many words, but worth the effort to keep going. It was just pure pleasure.

Carol S. (Pawleys Island, SC)

Gossip Girls
Melanie Benjamin has done an excellent job of characterization, especially Truman Capote and Babe Paley.
Truman's collection of New York socialites, his "swans," these women of wealth and privilege appear to have it all. We are given a glimpse into their beautiful lives and the not so beautiful in their lives. When I should not care about these self-centered celebrities, I found myself sympathetic and wanting to know more about each of them. That's good writing!

...16 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Melanie Benjamin Author Biography

Photo: Deborah Feingold

Melanie Benjamin was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. An avid reader all her life - as a child, she was the proud winner, several years running, of the summer reading program at her local library - she still firmly believes that a lifetime of reading is the best education a writer can have.

While attending Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, Melanie performed in many community theater productions before meeting her husband, moving to the Chicago area and raising two sons. Writing was always beckoning, however, and soon she began writing for local magazines and newspapers before venturing into her first love, fiction. As Melanie Hauser, she published two contemporary novels.

By incorporating her passion for history and biography, Melanie, now writing as Melanie ...

... Full Biography
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Other books by Melanie Benjamin at BookBrowse
  • The Girls in the Picture jacket
  • The Aviator's Wife jacket
  • The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb jacket

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