Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth AvenueThe Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes, even the wealthiest, most glamorous, most fêted superstar feels like a motherless child. Once Bobolink (Babe Paley) and True Heart (Truman Capote)were introduced, they were soulmates because their mothers, although present, were emotional bullies, leaving empty spaces and empty rooms that the socialite and the flamboyantly gay writer could fill with confidences and true vulnerability.

They met before Capote's success with Breakfast at Tiffany's. She and her husband welcomed him into their world and opened themselves to him even more than to each other - only Truman was allowed to see Babe's unpainted, scarred face. Not her husband, William Paley, nor CZ Guest, Slim Hawks, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Harrison, or any other the other glittering socialites had a clue about the renowned beauty's inner insecurities. From party to party, social event to lavish vacation, Truman and the Paleys partied and gossiped and lived the life of true excess that filled newspaper columns about the rich and famous.

How did it all go so wrong? After In Cold Blood, Truman faced a writer's block so deep that only excesses of drugs, alcohol, and Studio 54 could distract him. Although his beloved Babe was succumbing to lung cancer, he used the materials he had gathered - the gossip, innuendo, backstories - and exposed Babe and her circle in a story he published in "Esquire" - “La Côte Basque 1965” - destroying the illusion of their beautiful lives, and, effectively, committing social suicide.

Almost everyone in this book is seedy, gossipy, and unpleasant. Benjamin captures the rhythm of their language (especially Capote's) and the spectacle of their lives so well that you only realize afterwards that you have just read about truly awful people. The planning and execution of Capote's Black and White Ball are especially vivid, especially when the younger celebrities such as Mia Farrow and Penelope Tree leave with Frank Sinatra and the party collapses.

Four and 1/2 stars - close to completely enchanting.

I received this book as an e-ARC from NetGalley, and this is a fair review.

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