The New York Times bestselling 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.
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 high-profile 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.
‘The Swans of Fifth Avenue’ review: Would you trust Truman Capote?
By Caroline Preston February 1
For those of us who are women of a certain age and have subscriptions to Vanity Fair, the star-crossed friendship between Truman Capote and socialite Babe Paley was the stuff of tabloid legend. They met cute in the mid-’50s when he hitched a ride on the Paleys’ private plane. When her husband, CBS titan Bill Paley, heard that “Truman” was coming, he was expecting the former president, not the flamboyant boy author. Capote soon became Babe’s favorite lunch date and weekend guest who could be counted on for gossip, flattery and a sympathetic ear. Over the next 20 years, he became “her analyst, her pillow, her sleeping pill at night, her coffee in the morning.” She entrusted him, unwisely, with the most shameful secrets of her sexless marriage.
Like many great loves, theirs ended in a tragic betrayal. In 1975, Capote published “La Cote Basque, 1965,” an excerpt from his unfinished novel, “Answered Prayers.” Over a long, drunken lunch at the famous restaurant, Lady Ina Coolbirth shares some of the most lurid tales of her high-society friends. One is about a multimedia tycoon, Sydney Dillon, who has a squalid one-night stand and desperately tries to wash the stained bedsheet before his wife gets home. Babe, who was dying of lung cancer at the time, recognized the similarity to her husband. Capote had, literally and literarily, aired her dirty laundry; she refused to speak to him ever again.
In her highly entertaining new novel, “The Swans of Fifth Avenue,” Melanie Benjamin investigates the bonds between this mismatched pair and Capote’s self-destructive urges that eventually ruptured them. The novel’s narrative structure is a bit like wandering through La Cote Basque at lunchtime and overhearing snippets of conversation. In alternating chapters, Capote and Babe offer their own versions of their friendship. Celebrity characters also weigh in with their two cents: socialites Slim Keith and Pamela Churchill Harriman, Truman’s lover Jack Dunphy, Diana Vreeland and Bill Paley.
Benjamin has proved an able chronicler of the inner lives of women partnered to famous, narcissistic men. In her bestselling novel “The Aviator’s Wife,” the introspective narrator, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, examined her suffocating marriage to the chilly, autocratic Lindy.
But what was the inner life of Babe Paley, a woman renowned solely for her exteriors — her Vogue-model face, her best-dressed-hall-of-fame wardrobe, her exquisitely decorated homes? Benjamin looks for an answer in an oft-repeated description by none other than Capote himself: “Babe Paley has only one fault — she’s perfect. Other than that, she’s perfect.”
Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novel, The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, Melanie Benjamin
Photo by Deborah Feingold a star during the Gilded Age. Her novels have been translated in over ten languages, featured in national magazines such as Good Housekeeping, People, and Entertainment Weekly, and optioned for film.
Melanie is a native of the Midwest, having grown up in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she pursued her first love, theater. After raising her two sons, Melanie, a life-long reader (including being the proud winner, two years in a row, of her hometown library's summer reading program!), decided to pursue a writing career. After writing her own parenting column for a local magazine, and winning a short story contest, Melanie published two contemporary novels under her real name, Melanie Hauser, before turning to historical fiction.
Melanie lives in Chicago with her husband, and near her two grown sons. In addition to writing, she puts her theatrical training to good use by being a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau. When she isn't writing or speaking, she's reading. And always looking for new stories to tell.