New Fiction Friday: The Swans of Fifth Avenue

IMG_0523Truman Capote is one of the most infamous writers of the 20th century. He was incredibly talented, but before reading this book, I didn’t know that much about him.  The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin, focuses on his life during the 60s and 70s, and his relationship with several very wealthy women of New York City’s society.  He became very close to one woman in particular, the richest of them all.  With all of the secrets and stories collected after years of friendship, he wrote some of his most sensational stories.

9780345528698_p0_v3_s192x300The story of Capote and these women sounded familiar, and I was intrigued by the story of these socialites ultimately being betrayed by someone they thought was a friend. It reminded me so much of the NYC that was portrayed in Mad Men, and I loved that part of the story.  Yet the more I read, I was reminded of a Vanity Fair article that was published in 2012, about this same story. I’m not sure if Melanie Benjaim was inspired by the true story – or by this story that was written for the magazine. Either way, I actually preferred the article to her story.

His proclaimed best friend (who he would eventually backstab in the worst, most public way) was Babe Paley, whose husband was the head of CBS. They were incredibly wealthy – and probably the most notable couple in NYC at the time. She was beautiful, accomplished (but only as a socialite), cultured, and admired. He got close to her and her friends, almost taking residence on 5th Avenue with them. Listening to their stories, their secrets, working them into his story that was featured in Esquire magazine.  Described as social suicide, Answered Prayers, exploited their trust, and exposed their scandalous personal lives to the world.

The first article that was meant to be the first installment of Answered Prayers, which would eventually be published as a complete novel.  It was called “La Cote Basque”, and first appeared in the magazine in June of 1975. The book was never complete, but this one article was probably more scandalous and more widely read than anything he had previously written. It was juicy, and full of ture stories that were disastrous to those who were mentioned.  Though there names were changed in the story, these women recognized themselves in his writing.

I really didn’t know that much about Capote before reading the book, other than what I had learned in the Vanity Fair story. I remember watching Capote a few years ago, but that only focuses on his work on In Cold Blood.  So basically what I know about him his through Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This book gives a little insight into Capote, enough insight to know that I probably would have wanted to read his books, but wouldn’t have wanted him as a friend.


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