In my junior year of high school, we studied Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." I was wowed by Capote's masterful use of language and his ability to wrap me up in a story I wouldn't otherwise have picked up. We also watched the film "Capote" to get a sense, though fictionalized, of the man behind the book and how involved he became in the case. I have been intrigued by Capote himself ever since.
Enter "The Swans of Fifth Avenue," and the opportunity to get another glimpse, again fictionalized, into a different chapter of Capote's life. During and after the publication of "In Cold Blood," Capote was a high society darling, a fixture on the New York City social scene. He befriended the most beautiful, powerful women, gaining their confidences and attending their parties and vacations. He later betrayed them by revealing their secrets in a short story published in Esquire. This novel tells the story of his intimate friendships with these women and the falling out over the story.
Benjamin crafts her novel out of the truth, building lives and personalities out of the public records left behind by these women. She also helpfully includes specifications on what she fictionalized and what is documented truth at the conclusion of the novel. Shining above all is the relationship she portrays between Babe Paley and Truman, providing glimpses into both of their innermost thoughts about the other so the reader can see how these very different people formed the perfect odd couple.
Cassandra Campbell and Paul Boehmer do the narration on the audiobook, though as the novel features a close third-person narrator, I found the dual audio to be a bit confusing. Campbell's portrayal of Capote's nasaly drawl was a bit grating at times, but otherwise the audiobook was an enjoyable format for this novel.
Verdict: Affirmed - for readers looking for a gossipy summer read complete with scandal and betrayal, or a glimpse into NYC's elite in the late 1960's to mid 1970's.
"The Swans of Fifth Avenue" by Melanie Benjamin, published January 26, 2016 by Delacorte Press. Audio narration by Cassandra Campbell and Paul Boehmer, published January 26, 2016 by Random House Audio.