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The Swans of Fifth Avenue  By  cover art

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

By: Melanie Benjamin
Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell,Paul Boehmer
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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best seller

The 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. 

People’s Book of the Week • USA Today’s number-one “New and Noteworthy” Book • Entertainment Weekly’s Must List • LibraryReads Top Ten Pick   

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 prestigious 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 listeners as it opens the door onto one of America's most sumptuous eras. 

Praise for The Swans of Fifth Avenue 

“Exceptional storytelling...teeming with scandal, gossip and excitement.” (Harper’s Bazaar)

“This moving fictionalization brings the whole cast of characters back to vivid life. Gossipy and fun, it’s also a nuanced look at the beauty and cruelty of a rarefied, bygone world.” (People)

“The era and the sordid details come back to life in this jewel of a novel.” (O: The Oprah Magazine)

©2015 Melanie Benjamin (P)2015 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"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 best-selling author of Water for Elephants)

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

“Shamelessly gossipy...a catty, juicy read that’s like a three-martini lunch.”(USA Today)

What listeners say about The Swans of Fifth Avenue

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If You Are Of Certain Age, You'll Enjoy This

At first I thought that the narrators emulating Truman Capote's voice and inflections would be grating but as it turns out, that actually added positively to the reading and listening.
Caasandra Campbell and Paul Boehmer did a great job.
The down side is, if you're under say, the age of 55, you probably won't get a grip on the character that Capote truly was merely by hearing the narrators' really good impersonations of his persona via voice. I might be wrong, but I believe that you almost have to have had a somewhat vague impression of him from that time period to really understand and get into this book.
Ms. Benjamin did a super job in painting the characters and overall, the book is a really good listen.

30 people found this helpful

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Wanted to give 4-1/2 stars. Not quite perfect....

Any additional comments?

Some readers will have little interest in these characters and their world, floating like whipped cream on top of the Fifties and Sixties. The complex of relationships between Truman Capote and his "swans" (wealthy, socially powerful, gorgeous society women: Babe Paley and her sisters, Slim Keith, CZ Guest, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Carol Matthau, Gloria Vanderbilt, Pamel Digby Churchill Heyward Harriman and others); and their husbands, esp Bill Paley, is here treated in a "non-fiction novel", a literary form Capote claimed to invent, and used to impressive effect in his masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

Benjamin is not a stylist at Capote's level, but she writes well. (I should mention that i listened to an audible version instead of reading print.) She brings to life the emotional activity behind all that luxurious beauty and social perfection - she is esp good with Capote, Babe Paley, Slim Keith, and Bill Paley, our principle players.

I was already familiar with many of these stories, esp Capote's triumph and fall, and the aftermath of the story La Cote Basque, 1965. Many other reviewers have given vivid intros.

For me, the weakest points are:
The symbolic bookends at the beginning and end, happily brief.
The dialogue at the imagined "swan power lunch" after the Esquire publication, which seems somewhat weak.
The re-working of who might have left the stains on those sheets. While Benjamin's version has some poignancy, Benjamin's choice, who cared deeply for Babe, would never have behaved so - and this version undercuts the point of Truman's story: the deliberate insult the old-money, un-swan-like WASP wife intended to wield as she conveyed her contempt for the Jewish mogul who dared to believe himself in her league.

The best parts are the voices of Truman, Babe, Bill, and Slim, who come to life. They grew on me until they felt fully formed. The writer makes real the fragile trust Truman and Babe hold in each other, until he goes too far.

I wish someone would publish depth biographies of these swans and their world, and i would also love a photographic history. We can be nostalgic because this world is as lost as Fitzgerald's hopes and dreams, as given to Gatzby. These socialites already seemed quaint and "as seen through a glass" in the seventies, and Amanda Burden, Babe Paley's daughter, has chosen and succeeded at a very different and modern sort of life.

Curously the most successful of these swans, in the terms of today's worldviews, are Pamela Harriman, "the courtesan of the century", the least swan-like, who transformed herself into a real power with a notable career; CZ Guest, gardening expert, and to appearances the least fragile, most confident and emotionally whole of this group, and the one who stayed in touch with Capote; Gloria Vanderbilt, survivor of a horrible childhood, also re-invented herself as a notable businesswoman.

I started this expecting a "beach read" and found much more.

25 people found this helpful

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AWFUL!

For me, this book is bad on so many levels. The plethora of narrators make no sense and I found it to be distracting. Plus the story itself is just "fluffy Wikipedia", i.e., the facts which are available anywhere have been "fluffed up" with inane dialogue. I've read several books about the socialites in this book and, here, they come off less "rich and famous" than they do as just plain silly. Not for me!

23 people found this helpful

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Disconnect on many levels

At best, this book shows a tiny wedge of "society" as it once existed in New York. It attempts (in a fictional way) to explore some "what ifs" about Truman Capote as he related to several society women, their husbands and his own lover(s). It's not exactly a story, yet it's not a biograph(ies) since it weaves a few basic facts with hypotheticals to spin a tale.

As always, Capote is revealed to be the opportunist and somewhat hideous person and leach he was. This book somewhat gave him more depth than many literary critics do - but I suppose it's subjective.

The "feel" and descriptions of New York - other than those of Bergdorf-Goodman and a couple of restaurants - are shallow. The author says in the end notes that she never lived in New York, and it's obvious to anyone who has. This lack of richness of backdrop brings the characters into sharper focus which may be intentional as it brings falseness and flaws more sharply into focus.

I'm sorry I read this book because it was, overall, depressing. There are no smiles when you're reading this book - but there are no tears either. It's just there, and I walked away feeling like I do when I leave a funeral. Bad.

17 people found this helpful

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BEST BOOK EVER!!!!

As a child during the 50's and 60's, I watched the adults with confusion and awe. This fabulous book explained all of their insane behavior to me, while I was so very busily being seen and not heard.

14 people found this helpful

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Historical Fiction about the Glamorous days of NYC

I absolutely adored this book.
The characters are well developed and memorable.The prose was just delightful.
Multiple narrators who were all excellnt.I was sorry when it ended. Well done.

12 people found this helpful

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WORST BOOK EVER!!!!

So horrible is this book that words defy description. Is it the high school girl writing? The overblown narrative?

No. It's everything...

12 people found this helpful

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Slow start, but worth it

After a slow start ( the narrative seemed a bit choppy and the characters took some time to establish), this turned into a really compelling story. It is a fascinating look at a different time, and at a lifestyle most of us will never experience ( and, frankly, after listening to this book, who would want to ?!) The narrators really brought the characters to life, especially Truman Capote with his very distinct verbal style. In spite of the surface superficiality, you will care about all of these damaged and desparate people, even Truman.

8 people found this helpful

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Very Enjoyable

Very entertaining. It opens a window into a bygone era. The narrators did an excellent job bringing the characters to life.

8 people found this helpful

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Doesn't live up to the hype.

I chose this after reading great reviews in a couple of places and it has turned out to be unbelievably pretentious and boring. If you enjoy lengthy, metaphor-laden descriptions of people you'd never want to know and very little actual story...well, this is the book for you.

8 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Vanessa Young
  • Vanessa Young
  • 10-27-18

Another view of Capote

I was unsure about this book to begin with, but I really enjoyed it. It is well written, well read and I felt that the author's note at the end was a useful addition to the book.
I have read Capote's work, seen the movie where he is played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and read a lot about the Black and White Ball and about Capote's downfall and eventual death. This book, an 'imagined account' of Truman and his 'swans' is a great addition to the library of Capote fans and of those who are interested in social and, even in, fashion history. I look forward to reading more from this author.