RATING: 4 STARS
The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel refer to the uber wealthy women of 1950s New York, who glide with ease through their world of fashion, lunch, and parties. Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Harriman dominated the New York society columns and the high-fashion magazine spreads. These gorgeous women were groomed from birth to achieve their main goal in life: to marry a powerful, wealthy man. Their main role as a wife ensured that their husband’s lives were comfortable and effortless.
In exchange for marrying wealthy men, the Swans had everything materialistically but lacked something money could never buy: a man willing to entertain them and more important, give them his full attention. Enter Truman Capote, a rising literary star, with his animated bitchy wit endeared him to them. They took him under their wing, invited him to their exclusive parties, showered him with expensive gifts and vacations. Their husbands were unintimidated by their wive’s relationship with Capote. A harmless flamboyant gay man couldn’t cause any problems, or could he?
A special connection developed between Babe Paley and Truman Capote. Both of them had emotionally distant mothers and never felt they were good enough. Babe strived to be perfect in every way for her husband Bill, the founder of CBS. She imposed unrealistic restrictions on herself over her looks and life. Yet when she spent time with Truman, she could relax and be herself.
After Capote’s achieved literary acclaim with “In Cold Blood”, he struggled for years to create another book. In desperation, he wrote a short story for Esquire magazine, titled La Cote Basque 1965. The Swans found their personal stories, including their secret affairs and deepest secrets, announced to the entire world. Naturally, Capote’s contact with the Swans were severed. Truman’s repeated phone call attempts were never returned. After continuous calls, the maids finally told him outright to stop calling. Even his closest friend, Babe Paley, who was dying of lung cancer, refused to speak to him. The exciting social life he worked for years to achieve were taken away in a matter of days.
This book was fascinating. The intricate descriptions of the Swans’ beauty routines, homes, lunches, and gossip were described in exquisite detail by Melanie Benjamin. Although Capote’s alcohol and drug abuse are briefly mentioned, his lack of insight while under the influence of drugs contributed to his decision to write the Esquire article, which ruined his friendship with the Swans.
Highly recommend for fans of Capote and especially for those keen on reading all the gossipy bits of famous people.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.