“The Swans of Fifth Avenue” by Melanie Benjamin

At the height of 5’ 3”, the emotionally needy, fragile, unconventional and complicated writer, Truman Capote, managed to cast a larger than life shadow. The author examines, how this shadow allowed him to become the unlikely intimate confidante of the most upper class female Manhattan socialites, a clique that only the very beautiful, very wealthy, and most importantly, socially acceptable were invited to join. Though written non-linear, the essence of the story begins in 1955, ten years before the publication of “In Cold Blood,” when Capote wormed his way into their world with his amusing stories and embellished storytelling ways. The story ends in 1975 when he betrayed them by revealing their dirtiest laundry in an article entitled “La Cote Basque 1965” published in Esquire. However, in-between most of those years he called these women “his swans” and they called him “dear heart” as they exchanged secrets and gossiped together enjoying their cattiness. Out of all his swans he forges the closest relationship with Babe Paley, the most stunningly beautiful of them all. It doesn’t take the reader long to realize that their bond is based on the loneliness and insecurity that both hide from the rest of the world. Capote, since childhood, always an outsider looking in, tells Babe, that he felt lonely even at a party thrown in his honor for the success of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” While Babe, since the time of her own childhood was taught to put all her time and efforts into marrying well, the upkeep of her face and her best-dressed wardrobe, which she did, leaving her little time to know who she might be as a person and felt just as isolated in her own world. By 1975 the swans didn’t see Capote as often as he was still looking for ways to feel accepted and to be adored. He left elegance to join the new hip in-crowd found in the famous disco Studio 54. When Babe saw him on TV talk shows she worried about his looking like a bloated caricature version of himself. At this time in his life Capote was incapable of writing his brilliance had been eaten away by alcohol and drugs. With his editor breathing down his neck for a new work from him, in desperation not to lose credibility, he wrote “La Cote Basque 1965.” After this publication none of the swans ever spoke to Capote again. All were furious with him but Babe was heartbroken. Curiously so was Capote. Although he ruthlessly violated her in print (he went as far as mentioning her false teeth which not even her husband was aware of) he was still beside himself that he no longer was her “dear heart.” I found this historical fiction, written as a biography, on these two tragic souls, well researched, well written and a very good read indeed.

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