Friday, January 22, 2016

The Swans of Fifth Avenue - Book Review

If you are as big a fan of Truman Capote and New York of the 1960s and 1970s as author Melanie Benjamin, then you'll probably find Benjamin's new historical fiction novel The Swans of Fifth Avenue a compelling read. Benjamin is perhaps best known for her previous novel The Aviator's Wife, which was historical fiction about Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh as told through the eyes of Anne.

Perhaps I liked The Aviator's Wife better than this new book because I was at least a little familiar with the Lindbergh story, so there was a starting point to intrigue me. Not so much with The Swans of Fifth Avenue. It took me awhile to figure out what exactly the story was.

There's author Truman Capote, who, throughout the book, writes Breakfast at Tiffany'sIn Cold Blood, and then a terrible short story for Esquire magazine that is truly the climax of the story. Readers also meet the female socialites who flock to Capote, calling themselves his "swans". These women look good and have married well (sometimes multiple times), and they just use their husband's money to go out to lunch and buy new clothes and have their hair done by someone famous named Kenneth.

The main "swan" is Babe Paley, wife of William S. Paley, who owns CBS. I had no idea who this woman was, but her story (or rather, her story as imagined by Melanie Benjamin) reminded me a lot of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Babe is a woman trapped in a marriage, a woman who wants to do more and thinks she could do more, but that's not how she was raised. And it's certainly not what her husband expects of her.

I heard people talking about this book at Book Expo America last May, so when I saw that the author was doing a book signing at the show, I thought, "Well, I better get a copy of this if it's already generating word-of-mouth buzz!" It wasn't a terrible book, but compared to Benjamin's previous novel, it wasn't my favorite. I think it was a project dear to the author's heart, as she explains in the Afterword of the book, but the characters and overall story were just not that dear to me.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue is published by Delacorte Press and will be on bookstore shelves January 26. I received a free autographed advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

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