The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin


I picked this book up from NetGalley a while ago, but it went to the top of my list after I saw the movie Capote. Honestly, I watch very few movies in comparison to the amount of books I read, but this movie really affected me. What was most impressive to me was the fact that I watched it on a friend’s ipad as we shared a set of earbuds, riding home on the bus with about 50 8th graders we chaperoned on a field trip to DC. Needless to say, circumstances not entirely conducive to uninterrupted focus and sustained drama. But the movie was gripping, and the noisy 8th graders faded into the background.


Capote’s Swans, in turn, are every bit as compelling. Their dramas are sometimes slight, but just as often life-changing: from a casual snub to scandals that rock the social hierarchy. I knew very little about Babe Paley other than her status as a fashion icon and the wife of William, her relationship with Capote in an odd way almost mirrors the exploitive relationship he had with Perry Smith while writing In Cold Blood. I don’t know if I was just swayed by watching the movie, but I could not help seeing immediately how Capote used everyone and anyone as fodder for his career. Is this true? I’m not sure. I am a little nervous to read the next book I have on this theme, Tru and Nelle, which is a middle grade novel based on Capote’s relationship with his childhood friend Harper Lee. I am hoping that goes better than it did in the movie.


Nevertheless, this is an interesting portrayal of the glamorous, disturbing world of high society; where confidences and connections are currency, traded along with husbands, lovers and secrets. And Truman, well he writes it all down; barely changing the names to protect the innocent. Because they’re not really all that innocent after all, are they?