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The Swans of Fifth Avenue
Cover of The Swans of Fifth Avenue
The Swans of Fifth Avenue
A Novel
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The 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.

People's Book of the Week • USA Today's #1 "New and Noteworthy" Book • Entertainment Weekly's Must List
  • LibraryReads Top Ten Pick
    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 prestigious 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.
    Praise for The Swans of Fifth Avenue
    "Exceptional storytelling . . . teeming with scandal, gossip and excitement."—Harper's Bazaar
    "This moving fictionalization brings the whole cast of characters back to vivid life. Gossipy and fun, it's also a nuanced look at the beauty and cruelty of a rarefied, bygone world."People

    "The era and the sordid details come back to life in this jewel of a novel."O: The Oprah Magazine
    "A catty, juicy read that's like a three-martini lunch."USA Today
    "[Captures] the mesmerizing sparkle and scandal of New York high society in the 1950s."Chicago Tribune
    "Tantalizing . . . Readers will fall into a world of glitz, glamour and the exciting life of the rich and famous. The details and conversations are so rich, you may forget you're reading a novel."—Associated Press
    "Highly entertaining."The Washington Post
    "Take Gossip Girl and move it to the 50s."theSkimm
    "The strange and fascinating relationship between Capote and his 'swans' is wonderfully reimagined in this engrossing novel"—Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants
    "Your next must-read book-club selection."—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
    From the Hardcover edition.
  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The 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.

    People's Book of the Week • USA Today's #1 "New and Noteworthy" Book • Entertainment Weekly's Must List
  • LibraryReads Top Ten Pick
    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 prestigious 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.
    Praise for The Swans of Fifth Avenue
    "Exceptional storytelling . . . teeming with scandal, gossip and excitement."—Harper's Bazaar
    "This moving fictionalization brings the whole cast of characters back to vivid life. Gossipy and fun, it's also a nuanced look at the beauty and cruelty of a rarefied, bygone world."People

    "The era and the sordid details come back to life in this jewel of a novel."O: The Oprah Magazine
    "A catty, juicy read that's like a three-martini lunch."USA Today
    "[Captures] the mesmerizing sparkle and scandal of New York high society in the 1950s."Chicago Tribune
    "Tantalizing . . . Readers will fall into a world of glitz, glamour and the exciting life of the rich and famous. The details and conversations are so rich, you may forget you're reading a novel."—Associated Press
    "Highly entertaining."The Washington Post
    "Take Gossip Girl and move it to the 50s."theSkimm
    "The strange and fascinating relationship between Capote and his 'swans' is wonderfully reimagined in this engrossing novel"—Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants
    "Your next must-read book-club selection."—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
    From the Hardcover edition.
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    Excerpts-
    • Chapter 1

      .....

      Once upon a time--

      It was the best of times, it was the worst of times--

      There once was a man from Nantucket--

      Truman giggled. He covered his mouth like a little boy, and tittered until his slender shoulders shook, his blue eyes so gleefully mischievous that he looked like a statue of Pan come to life.

      "Oh, Big Mama! I am such a naughty imp!"

      "True Heart, you are priceless!" Slim had laughed, too, she remembered, laughed until her ribs ached. Truman did that to her in those glorious early days; he made her laugh. That was it, really. The simple truth of the matter.

      When he was young, back in 1955, when they were all young--or, at least, younger--when fame was new and friendships fledgling, fueled by champagne and caviar and gifts from Tiffany's, Truman Capote was a hell of a lot of fun to be around.

      "Once upon a time," Slim had finally pronounced.

      "Yes. Well . . . ," and Truman drawled it out in his theatrical way, adding several syllables. "Once upon a time, there was New York."

      New York.

      Stuyvesants and Vanderbilts and Roosevelts and staid, respectable Washington Square. Trinity Church. Mrs. Astor's famous ballroom, the Four Hundred, snobby Ward McAllister, that traitor Edith Wharton, Delmonico's. Zany Zelda and Scott in the Plaza fountain, the Algonquin Round Table, Dottie Parker and her razor tongue and pen, the Follies. Cholly Knickerbocker, 21, Lucky Strike dances at the Stork, El Morocco. The incomparable Hildegarde playing the Persian Room at the Plaza, Cary Grant kneeling at her feet in awe. Fifth Avenue: Henri Bendel, Bergdorf's, Tiffany's.

      There was a subterranean New York, as well; "lower" in every meaning of the word. Ellis Island and the Bowery and the Lower East Side. The subway. Automats and Schrafft's, hot dogs from a cart, pizza by the slice. Chickens hanging from windows in Chinatown, pickles from a barrel on Delancey. Beatniks in the Village with their torn stockings and dirty turtlenecks and disdain for everything.

      But that wasn't the New York that drew the climbers, the dreamers, the hungry. No, it was lofty New York, the city of penthouses and apartments in the St. Regis or the Plaza or the Waldorf, the New York for whom "Take the 'A' Train" was a song, not an option. The New York of big yellow taxis in a pinch, if the limousine was otherwise occupied. The New York of glittering opening nights at the Met; endless charity balls and banquets; wide, clean sidewalks uncluttered by pushcarts and clothing racks and children playing. Views of the park, the river, the bridge, not sooty brick walls or narrow, dank alleys.

      The New York of the plays, the movies, the books; the New York of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair and Vogue.

      It was a beacon, a spire, a beacon on top of a spire. A light, always glowing from afar, visible even from the cornfields of Iowa, the foothills of the Dakotas, the deserts of California. The swamps of Louisiana. Beckoning, always beckoning. Summoning the discontented, seducing the dreamers. Those whose blood ran too hot, and too quickly, causing them to look about at their placid families, their staid neighbors, the graves of their slumbering ancestors and say--

      I'm different. I'm special. I'm more.

      They all came to New York. Nancy Gross--nicknamed "Slim" by her friend the actor William Powell--from California. Gloria Guinness--"La Guinness"--born a peasant in a rural village in Mexico. Barbara Cushing--known as "Babe" from the day she was born, the youngest of three fabulous sisters from Boston.

      And Truman. Truman Streckfus Persons Capote, who showed up one day on William S. and Babe...

    About the Author-
    • Melanie Benjamin is the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, and Alice I Have Been. Benjamin lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel.
    Reviews-
    • Publisher's Weekly

      October 26, 2015
      In 1975, a clique of Manhattan socialites discover that literary lion Truman Capote revealed their dirtiest laundry to the world in a story published to great fanfare in Esquire—a real-life event that inspires this novel. As the women (the metaphorical swans of the novel’s title) face his perfidy, they attempt to untangle an intimacy with Capote that dates back to 1955. Though Marella Agnelli, C.Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Churchill Harriman, and Slim Keith all feel betrayed, it’s style icon Babe Paley who suffers most. Unconventional, brilliant, and voraciously ambitious, Capote seems an unlikely confidante for a woman celebrated solely for marrying, living, and looking well, but the loneliness and insecurity the two both hide forges a deep bond. Babe trusts “True Heart” enough to reveal shameful secrets, from her false teeth to her powerful husband’s sordid philandering; tragically, if predictably, Capote’s desperation for writing fodder proves more powerful than love. Benjamin’s (The Aviator’s Wife) fact-based narrative captures the era’s juiciest scandals and wildest extravagances, but readers expecting the sympathetic protagonists of her earlier books may be disappointed by the diffuse and chilly cast of characters here. With an unabashed delight in bitchy gossip and lavish lifestyles, the novel’s themes are sober ones: the double-edged power of telling our stories, the ways we test and punish those we love, and the psychic cost of life lived by the mantra “appearance matters most.”

    • Kirkus

      December 1, 2015
      Class, cliques, and cattiness converge in this New York fable based on the lives of Truman Capote and his greatest fan, Babe Paley. As it happens, Benjamin (The Aviator's Wife, 2013, etc.) puts more honey than vinegar in her rendering of the disarming palship between the openly gay author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and his much-married "Bobolink"--Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer Paley, the outwardly towering, inwardly cowering Upper East Side matron he squired around town for a quarter century. A chorus of the couple's BFFs provides commentary on their history, as Benjamin spirals chirpily through the hedonistic '50s, '60s, and '70s, cherry-picking scenes of their first, chance weekend together at the Paleys' compound in Jamaica ("So many wanted to catch him at it! Watch as genius burned!"), thick as thieves over lunch at Le Cirque, or swapping confidences about their narcissistic mothers--more craved than kisses--at slumber parties in the Hamptons, all the way through to the publication of Capote's masterpiece, In Cold Blood, and his infamous Black and White masquerade ball. The event that allegedly drove them apart--when Truman mauled Babe and her set in thinly disguised print--has been raked over repeatedly by critics, filmmakers, and biographers (including Babe's friend Slim Keith--one of the Kenneth-coiffed swans alluded to in the title), so it's no surprise when the novel re-creates some iconic moments leading up to the rift: such as when Truman notices for the first time that Babe's husband--CBS executive William S. Paley--smiles "like a man who had just swallowed an entire human being." (Capote recognizes a keeper--and files it away "in his photographic memory, to be used at a later date.") The character Benjamin takes most imaginative liberty with, naturally, is Babe--the cool cucumber in Mainbocher who (the chatter went) could brush off her husband's wolfishness with practiced ease and neither bleeped a word against nor spoke to her literary pet again after he published "La Cote Basque 1965." Elegant Babe's thoughts, if not her lips, are unsealed at last. Those unaware of the scandal get CliffsNotes; and everyone else gets a chance to judge whether a swan's muteness can be more interesting than her gripe.

      COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    • Library Journal

      August 1, 2015
      Best known for "The Aviator's Wife", which dwelled on the "New York Times" extended best sellers list for three months, Benjamin here offers something even juicier: fiction about Truman Capote's relationship with diamond-bright Babe Paley and other high-society "swans" in 1950s New York.

      Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

    • People (Book of the Week) "This moving fictionalization brings the whole cast of characters back to vivid life. Gossipy and fun, it's also a nuanced look at the beauty and cruelty of a rarefied, bygone world."
    • Renée Rosen, bestselling author of What the Lady Wants "The strange and fascinating relationship between Truman Capote and his 'swans' is wonderfully reimagined in this engrossing novel. It's a credit to Benjamin that we end up caring so much for these women of power, grace, and beauty--and for Capote, too."--Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants "A delicious tale . . . Melanie Benjamin has turned Truman Capote's greatest scandal into your next must-read book-club selection."--Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet "Reading The Swans of Fifth Avenue is like being ushered into a party where you're offered champagne and fed the sumptuous secrets of New York's elite--without having to pay the price afterward. The swans are outmatched only by the elegance of Melanie Benjamin's prose--captivatingly earnest and sophisticated."--Vanessa Diffenbaugh, New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers "Benjamin convincingly portrays a large cast of colorful historical figures while crafting a compelling, gossipy narrative with rich emotional depth."--Library Journal "The beautiful people of the fifties and sixties glitter in this riveting tale of betrayal and greed. . . . Irresistible, astonishing, and told with verve . . . not to be missed."--Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe "The season's must-read guilty pleasure, a delicious amalgam of wit, gossip, beauty, and scandal, meticulously researched and cleverly imagined . . . From Truman Capote's devious charm to Babe Paley's tragic glamour, Melanie Benjamin conjures, in vivid detail, a lost world."--Michael Callahan, author of Searching for Grace Kelly "A deliciously spiky novel of love and betrayal."--Alex George, author of A Good American "Heart-rending . . . at once gossipy, intimate, poignant, and astonishingly perceptive."--Robin Oliveira, bestselling author of I Always Loved You "A compulsively readable tale of friendship, betrayal, tragedy, and unconventional love."
    • Edward Kelsey Moore, New York Times bestselling author of The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat "A beautifully written story of friendship, love, and betrayal, The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a fascinating look at a gossipy, glamorous world filled with brilliant and vulnerable people. Every moment of triumph and tragedy is riveting, and Melanie Benjamin makes this gilded world come alive in a funny and moving novel that captivates from the first page to the last."
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