The Swans of Fifth Avenue

by Melanie Benjamin

Paperback, 2016

Status

Available

Publication

Random House USA (2016), Edition: Reprint, 384 pages

Description

Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ? 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 #1 ??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 readers 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… (more)

Rating

½ (270 ratings; 3.7)

User reviews

LibraryThing member flourgirl49
I. Loved. This. Book.
LibraryThing member Auntie-Nanuuq
Definitely a compelling read, I couldn't get enough of the story, the women, their lives...

This book is well written and certainly spellbinding, taking a close look at high society life of the 1930's through its decline in the 1970's, and I didn't want to put it down.

This is the fictionalized true
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story of Barbara "Babe" Paley, Gloria Guinness, Slim Kieth, Marella Agnelli, C.Z. Guest, & Pamela Churchill Harrington and their relationship w/ Truman Capote; as well his relationship with Babe's husband, Bill Paley (CBS), & Jack Dunphy (Truman's long-time companion).

The dialog is fictionalized, but the settings, people, certain events actually happened....

From the high beginnings it was obvious that there would be a crash & burn; that friendships would be betrayed & broken; that Truman Capote was a human disaster in the making...

Capote's downward spiral & his vileness was perfectly portrayed as was the life of Babe Paley. One could not help but admire & care about Babe as a person, fictionalized or not; nor could one help but despise the twisted little Capote.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Yes, this book covered quite a bit of Family Drama & the "Swans" were sisters/family to each other in a manner of speaking, but I'm not going to place this review there...

Definitely a compelling read, I couldn't get enough of the story, the women, their lives...

This book is well written and certainly spellbinding, taking a close look at high society life of the 1930's through its decline in the 1970's, and I didn't want to put it down.

This is the fictionalized true story of Barbara "Babe" Paley, Gloria Guinness, Slim Kieth, Marella Agnelli, C.Z. Guest, & Pamela Churchill Harrington and their relationship w/ Truman Capote; as well his relationship with Babe's husband, Bill Paley (CBS), & Jack Dunphy (Truman's long-time companion).

The dialog is fictionalized, but the settings, people, certain events actually happened....

From the high beginnings it was obvious that there would be a crash & burn; that friendships would be betrayed & broken; that Truman Capote was a human disaster in the making...

Capote's downward spiral & his vileness was perfectly portrayed as was the life of Babe Paley. One could not help but admire & care about Babe as a person, fictionalized or not; nor could one help but despise the twisted little Capote.

The last lyrical paragraphs of the book which portray a dream of graceful swans swimming off into the distance radiance, leaving behind the one who could never truly be one, was the perfect ending.

I remember watching Truman Capote on t.v. in the late 70's, I didn't care for him or his vicious nastiness much, I did however like his book: "Music for Chameleons" which I own a copy of.

This book has peaked my curiosity to the point that I have put two other books on hold: "Sisters" by David Grafton; "Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life" by Slim Keith & "Party of the Century" by Deborah Davis

I remember watching Truman Capote on t.v. in the late 70's, I didn't care for him or his vicious nastiness much, I did however like his book: "Music for Chameleons" which I own a copy of.

This book has peaked my curiosity to the point that I have put two other books on hold: "Sisters" by David Grafton; "Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life" by Slim Keith & "Party of the Century" by Deborah Davis
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LibraryThing member kdabra4
If even half of what the author reveals about Truman Capote's inability to keep a secret-- his seemingly psychological need for gossip-- is true, then Truman would absolutely love this book. Filled with tales about Truman himself and his beloved swans, the society women who were his best friends,
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this book is a delicious, delectable foray into their dirty little secrets. The women tell Truman things they don't even tell each other or their husbands, because their trust in Truman is implicit. But after the success of In Cold Blood and Truman's "Party of the Century," he changed. He turned to vodka and drugs and grew lazy, more concerned about his image than with his writing. He finally wrote about what he knew best, his swans-- friendship be damned--because they made for good stories. He and Babe Paley were the closest of them all, so the reader wonders if at least the two of them will patch things before it's too late.

I remember very well watching Truman make the talk show circuit back when I was a pre-teen. He was so flamboyant and outlandish, nothing about him seemed geniune. I felt the same here. His friendships and the trust they demanded were tested, and he gets a failing grade. He didn't know love as a child and so as an adult his conception of love was skewed. Maybe with Babe he struck gold, but then he risked even that.

I was quite taken with the first half of this book, but in the second half I felt the portrayal of Truman's personality gradually enervated the enjoyment factor. The author still managed to turned some of the vinegar into champagne, so for that I give her points. Tragedy amidst the glitz and glamour.
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LibraryThing member Gingermama
I very much enjoyed this work of historical fiction. Benjamin brings these notable figures to life on the page, and people who had previously just been semi-well-known names from the past became real people to be loved or pitied -- sometimes both. Highly recommended: it will give you a sense of the
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rarified life of Manhattan's elite in the 1950s and 60s, and the rise and fall of writer Truman Capote.
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LibraryThing member mchwest
Wow. To quote;
The beauty of understanding tears in an understanding face.
The beauty of a perfectly tailored shirt, crisp, blinding white, just out of the box.
The beauty of a swirl of taffeta, the tinkling of bells, diamonds, emeralds; a pristine paper flower.
Beauty.
Melanie Benjamin has given us a
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story to read that will bring you right down to the streets of New York in the 50's watching the glamorous Swans of Fifth Avenue glide by on their way to lunch that they don't eat , just sit and sip champagne and wait to be seen. The research she did for this book must have been overwhelming but also so intriguing, I wonder how she decided she had done enough. True, the forward of the book speaks that you will Google every character , and I did, and I will look into more of them. It's just fascinating, a world that will never happen again. Melanie hit the mark when she wrote;
"A time before it was fashionable to tell the truth, and the world grew more sorid from too much honesty."
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LibraryThing member MomMom46
What at first seemed to be a trite story of society women bred from birth to be the ultimate trophy wives, became a fascinating tale of their complicated lives. As the author states in her commentary,"What happened to them all, these mythological creatures in their penthouses; what happened to New
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York, to sophistication, to elegance, to fairy tales? What happened to Truman Capote? What happened to his swans? What truly was the price they paid, for the lives they lived? For there is always a price. Especially in fairy tales."
Most of the novel spins around the beautiful, unhappy socialite Babe Paley and the brilliant,grotesque author Truman Capote. Truman called Babe and her circle of friends his Swans. Through the early days of the 1950's and their friendship,Truman gained access to their scandals and gossip. Ultimately he turns on them, revealing their secrets in a magazine article called La Cote Basque 1965, published in Esquire magazine in 1975 when their fairy tale ended.
The author stated that she once envisioned Babe Paley and Truman Capote sitting in a corner sipping champagne at the Plaza. On a recent trip to New York City my husband and I had dinner at Cafe Benoit,which is in the space formerly occupied by La Cote Basque, so it was easy for me to picture the Swans lunching there with their white gloves,jewels and champagne.
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LibraryThing member artheart
In the beginning, one will find themselves bound to a page-turner novel; an American epoch, introduces The Swans of Fifth Avenue, influential socialites, and their friends. Then, enters Truman Capote, literary legend, who gains access to Babe Paley (A Swan) and her inner circle. Stories of scandal,
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love, loneliness, gossip, beauty, time-period fashion, news events, and parties will unfold. For some, this book will uncover memories of a past era. Highly recommend this novel and I’m looking forward to reading other books written by Melanie Benjamin.
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LibraryThing member AnnArborCityClub
Even today, havens for hedonists exist where cadres justify every satisfaction imaginable. Melanie Benjamin exposes the degenerates in Truman Capote's Fifth Avenue society. With the surgical skill of La Cote Basque 1964, she bares the souls of the deliciously portrayed swans. By the time each neck
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of the swans is wrung, the reader sighs for their loss. Beauty disguising ugly realities remains unvarnished on all 335 pages.

Usually historical fiction sends me back to the library (or Google) to research the lives of captivating characters. The meaningless endeavors of this crew didn't motivate me to search out any hidden news about them. Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" stands for itself, untarnished by his altered ego. Humility seems a word unheard on any streets he walked.

Nevertheless, Melanie took me there, in the bedrooms, up the lavish stairs, through the ballrooms, into the dark bar rooms, and let me hear the gab of the chosen, famous as it was.
(Reviewed by Rohn Federbush, member of the Ann Arbor City Club.)
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LibraryThing member Jonri
I won this book through a LibraryThing giveaway.

The book is a fictionalized account of the peculiar friendship between a young Truman Capote and a group of Manhattan society women whom he referred to as his "swans." His closest friend among them was Babe Paley, the wife of then CBS chairman Bill
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Paley. It is odd, but true, that Capote formed a sort of triangle with the Paleys. (The relationship was not sexual. )

The book is very well written. It is a fascinating "snapshot" of one tier of society at a particular time and place. At the time, a society wife was responsible for making sure that everything in her home was arranged for her husband's comfort and that she was seen on the social pages. If this meant ignoring your children, that was fine. Capturing and keeping a rich husband was the aim of these women.

The problem I have with the book is that it is a "novel" about real people. While an end note claims to explain what is "real" and what is novelized, it isn't quite that easy. People's personalities are dissected. Thus, Bill Paley, a womanizer--that much is true--is portrayed as genuinely repentant when Babe develops breast cancer and dies. Was he? Or is this part of the fiction? We don't know.
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LibraryThing member astridnr
The Swans of Fifth Avenue left me feeling quite reflective and a little sad at how the New Yorkers in this novel lived their lives. I requested the book out of curiosity, wanting to learn more about Truman Capote. I believe the author does a good job handling the facts and fictionalizing the rest.
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The events and characters are very plausible. Still, these characters led strange and very external lives. The friendship between Truman and Babe is the real subject of the book and is fascinating. The author begins and ends the book beautifully.
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LibraryThing member lewislibrary
This book is the story of Babe Paley and Truman Capote..... of their friendship and love for each other, and of his betrayal of that love. It is so well written that you feel as if you are actually there witnessing it all unfold. I definitely recommend this engrossing read.
LibraryThing member kremsa
I won this book from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a very quick read about Truman Capote's wealthy Fifth Avenue friends and his relationship with them. I think the book was a bit too gossipy and I think it was repetitious in its wording and subject
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matter. It was somewhat entertaining however and it definitely spiked my interest to the point of googling the mentioned characters to see how much of this novel was actually true. Some of the book became a little too sanguine for my taste. All in all not a bad read.
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LibraryThing member mpmills
I enjoyed this fictionalized account of the friendships amongTruman Capote and the society women of New York during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The novel focuses on Capote's close friendship with Babe Paley. I watched Truman Capote on Johny Carson when I was young and found him fascinating. The book
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shows him as a very sad, troubled man. He befriended these women for decades, yet betrayed their trust in the end. A fascinating look inside the glitter and glamour of society at the time.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
I received an ARC of this book as part of Librarything Early Reviewers. Fictionalized history of Truman Capote and the group of women (his “swans”) that he socialized with during the 1960’s and 70’s in New York. Well written and entertaining, but with a tone of catty name dropping that I
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found tiresome, but may have been the author’s intent. I wish there had been a more in depth study into Capote, and less gossip. Definitely recommend for anyone interested in the socialite aspect of New York during the period for the descriptions of the women’s lives, clothing, parties and high society way of life.
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LibraryThing member susan.h.schofield
I won an advanced reader copy of this book from LibraryThing. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It was a vibrant and engaging story of the beautiful, rich and famous in the 50s, 60s and 70s. The characters and situations are real - the conversations and reactions are imagined. I didn't
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know anything about the relationship of Truman Capote and his 'swans' - this book was a fascinating glimpse into a life of wealth and privilege that most people can only dream of.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
Melanie Benjamin has written another fascinating fictionalized account of real-life people. This time her focus is on the socialites of Manhattan who set the standards for fashion in the 1950s. The most well known of these women was Babe Paley, an icon of style and beauty. When Truman Capote enters
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her life, she and her equally fashionable friends became known to him as his "swans."

As their lives intertwine, these women entrust him with their secrets and confidences. Babe is especially vulnerable and convinced that they are true soul mates. Truman is seen as a shallow, manipulative, insecure man whose only loyalty is to his own ego when he betrays the swans, especially Babe, in a despicable, self-serving act that results in his ostracism from their society. Their public images define them, and his betrayal of them is very painful on many levels.

Melanie Benjamin writes the kind of fiction that results in her readers researching all the real-life characters in her books to learn more about them. She is an exceptionally good writer with the skills necessary to blend fiction and fact into an absorbing read.
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LibraryThing member Abi516
I have long found Truman Capote an intriguing and captivating figure. I was so pleased to receive a copy of this book for the early reviewers program. It did not disappoint. Capotes rise to fame is documented through the eyes of his wealthy New York society lady friends, particularly Babe Paley.
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From his rise to fame and ultimate fall from grace, the book is beautifully written and I found myself captivated- a guest in the world of Capotes swans.
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LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
The ‘Swans’ of the title are the ultra-rich women of 1950s New York, who float serenely through their lives of fashion, lunch, and parties- while paddling like hell below the surface to keep themselves together. These women- Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Gloria Guiness, and Pamela Harriman- dominated
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the covers and pages of Vogue. Professional beauties, they existed to make their powerful husband’s lives lovely and effortless. These were thoroughbreds who had married their way to the top.

Truman Capote entered this group when he was a rising star in the literary sky. His sparkling- and sometimes vicious- wit endeared him to them. They adopted him, gave him expensive gifts, invited him to everything, and took him on vacations with them. Their husbands didn’t care how much time their wives spent with Capote because he was flamboyantly gay; he was their palace eunuch, their petted and cossetted lapdog. Or so they thought.

Babe Paley and Capote formed a special bond; both the children of icy, emotionally distant mothers, they never felt they were quite good enough. Babe strived to be perfect for her husband Bill, the founder of CBS. She imposed rigid control over her life and her looks. With Capote, she could relax her control and be herself.

No one expected the betrayal. Capote, having reached the heights of literary acclaim with ‘In Cold Blood’, couldn’t seem to come up with another book. Perhaps it was desperation that made him do what he did: he wrote a short story for Esquire magazine, titled ‘La Cote Basque 1965”. The Swans found their stories, their words, their confidences, and their affairs, spread out over the pages for the world to see. As anyone but Capote would expect, doors were shut against him forever, including that of Babe Paley, who was dying of lung cancer. The glittering life he worked so hard to achieve was gone in a day.

The book fascinated me. Benjamin’s descriptions of the homes, the clothes, the hair, the beauty routines, the lunches, and most of all the bitchy gossiping, are all wonderfully described. Capote’s slide down to becoming a drug abuser takes the back seat to the Swans, but is equally important to the story. I just have to wonder: even with his massive ego, why in the hell did Capote thing he could get away with writing about the Swans in the way he did?
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LibraryThing member Loried
I was delighted to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of The Swans of Fifth Avenue provided by LibraryThing. I had previously read and enjoyed The Aviator's Wife by the same author. I found The Swans to be an interesting look at the glamorous lives of high society women in New York and
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Truman Capote as well as the dark side of all the characters. Although I wasn't particularly interested in the lives of these specific women, I thought the book raised fascinating psychological issues, and it was an atmospheric look at the time period. There were thought-provoking topics such as aging, loyalty among friends and the dangers of fame.

As with many other novelizations of real people, I was concerned about the authenticity of events which would have taken place behind closed doors. Imagined conversations portrayed as historic are troublesome to me. Although I enjoyed the book, I think it could be hurtful to family members of the characters who are still alive.

The book was well-written and entertaining. I think it will be particularly appealing to people who remember the time period, and I think it would be a great selection for book discussion groups.
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LibraryThing member nnjmom
Melanie Benjamin has done it again - she has taken people out of history, and given them flesh and blood, hearts and souls. She has poured their stories onto the pages of The Swans of Fifth Avenue. I was hooked from page one, and felt like I had been brought right into Babe Paley's world of glamour
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and wealth and fashion and parties - and pretense and betrayal and, ultimately heartache. There are certain authors who can tell a story well; there are other authors who know how to beautifully craft words on the page. Melanie Benjamin is one of the rare authors who can do both - she tells an engrossing story, but she tells it with such perfectly chosen words that the reader is immersed in the world she has created. As with the best historical fiction, she made me insatiable for more information on the people on the page, and my to-read list has grown with titles from her Author's Note. I can not recommend this book - and all of this author's work - highly enough.
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LibraryThing member aardvark2
Set primarily in the 1960's-1970’s, this book examines the relationships writer Truman Capote had with a group of New York socialites, primarily with Babe Paley. After earning their trust, he betrayed them by revealing their secrets in a story with thinly-veiled characters. This is a fascinating
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look at the lives of all concerned and reveals that the grass is not necessarily always greener on the other side, as it exposes the (supposed) unhappiness in the lives of Capote and the socialites. Interesting and thought-provoking.
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LibraryThing member MarysGirl
Melanie Benjamin knocks another one out of the park with this fictionalized version of recent social and literary history. I very much enjoyed her The Aviator's Wife and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, but wasn't sure I would like her foray into the lives of the super rich, celebrities, and
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powerful industrialists. They are a perennial favorite for many and feed a lucrative market in tabloids and gossip blogs. I personally avoid that stuff like the plague because I could care less about people who (I imagine) could care less about people like me. So it's a testament to Benjamin's skill that she made me care about these characters--particularly that fascinating, infuriating, mercurial genius Truman Capote. The lives of the "Swans" held less interest for me, except for Babe and Bill Paley. Bill Paley, as CEO of CBS provided half of our family's income for over thirty years, but it was still more curiosity than caring.

Like Benjamin, I had a vague image of Truman Capote based on his later years as a bloated flamboyant talk show raconteur dishing on his "friends" and acquaintances. I loved the movie "Breakfast at Tiffanys" and had a vague notion he wrote a popular book In Cold Blood. Benjamin constructs a complicated character in Capote and explores a tragic love story between him and Babe Paley--a leading socialite and considered one of the great beauties of her age. Both were emotionally crippled by their mothers (isn't it always the mothers' fault?) and unsuccessfully sought unconditional love elsewhere.

The strong characters and compelling story are enhanced by the structure of the book as it jumps back in forth in time between the fury of the swans over a tell-all story Capote published in a magazine and their developing infatuation with him during his most productive writing years. The later episodes drop hints and teases, building the suspense for the longer flash-back narrative, and ends with a twist. Benjamin takes a page from Capote's story by using the same character he used to tell-all to frame her book. A satisfying read and highly recommended.

Note: I received a copy of this book through the early reader program in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member thebooklover2
This book was fabulous! I loved every minute of it and was let down when it ended - I just wasn't ready to let it go. The author's careful research was obvious to anyone who reads Truman Capote or has seen the movie "Capote."

This is the story of Capote's relationship with the beautiful, society
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women of the 1950's and the secrets they imparted to him and that he subsequently wrote about. The author's account of society at that time is captivating.

I just can't say enough good about this book. If you like historical-fiction, chick-lit, scandal, suicides, etc. This book has it all.
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LibraryThing member Gwnfkt12
I immediately felt like I had stepped back in time to the 50s. A great look at the NYC elite, their lives, their friends, their smoking habits. The scandal at the center of the story immediately had me hooked. I loved the familiar dialogue, it felt like the characters were real people without the
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shadow of historic truth. Classy. Scandalous. Definitely recommend.
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LibraryThing member Neftzger
The Swans of Fifth Avenue is historical fiction based on the life of Truman Capote and his relationships with members of the NYC social elite. The book begins when Truman meets a group of socialites he refers to as his "swans." At the center of this group is Babe Paley, perhaps Truman's closest
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friend throughout his life.

Throughout the book we catch glimpses into what might have happened during events in history, such as Truman's famous Black and White Ball, the publication of In Cold Blood, and the infamous unfinished last novel that was published in excerpts and caused a rift between Truman and his NYC society friends.

Note: I received a free ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

2016

Physical description

7.97 inches

ISBN

0345528700 / 9780345528704
Page: 0.1327 seconds